Please help me try and work out why my baby duckling died

Discussion in 'Ducks' started by barbicanbird, Jul 27, 2014.

  1. barbicanbird

    barbicanbird Hatching

    Jul 27, 2014
    It's a week on since my duckling died. I had him/her for four lovely weeks after he fell into the direction of my Central London flat after his mum took her other babies down to the lake below my apartment block where they were quickly eaten by a seagull.

    I am still haunted by what could have caused the death, so would be really grateful if anyone on this forum could help me work it out.

    Here are the symptoms:

    Two weeks before death - duckling wasn't walking more than a couple of steps, would sit down and shuffle. To be honest, this duckling never walked. I put this down to it not needing to compete with siblings for food. It was easier just to crawl. It did sometimes walk and sometimes eat whilst standing up, so I thought it was just a phase. It liked to crawl up my sleeve to get to my shoulder but I realised this may not have been good for it.

    I spent one night just staying up with him/her petting her from its chest so that it learnt to stand up straight to be petted rather than be lying down. This worked a bit, duck would now stand up rather than shuffle to food. I then introduced some niacin to the feed (flush free) and that did help straighten its legs out and prevent it from walking on its feet. I had been feeding it egg, mashed up chicken, peas, cottage cheese, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, so it was getting enough niacin and I have successfully looked after five ducklings in the past: three this Easter and a couple two years ago. They survived under my care.

    The indoor outdoor temperate then went up to about 26-30 degrees, we were having a heatwave in London.

    The duckling would go to sleep elongating its neck and sleeping on its side which looked very cute and would walk but still only a few steps. Its feet were no longer overlapping but one leg still looked like it wasn't straight (the right leg) but that look of just jumping off a horse after a long ride wasn't so apparent as before.

    Then two Thursday's ago, when it was really hot we ended up having thunderstorms, the duckling started to pant a bit and show lack of interest. I had fed it a tiny bit of avocado on either Tuesday or Wednesday and I've since learnt that it is poisonous. However, online it says that death is within hours - this duckling was still alive.

    On Friday, more lethargy which I put down to the heat. The duckling would love to be snuggled and would fall asleep with its neck out. It's baby wings were up away from its body but I thought this was down to it developing feathers. You could feel quills were forming in its skin. It panted at one stage that evening.

    The duckling never enjoyed swimming (we waited until two weeks old), never wanted to go on the island in the water, always needed a hand and coaxing, and we only let it be in water for about five minutes. Twice I dunked it gently so that its head would be wet and its back as it had a little bit of dandruff. It panted a bit that evening but not often. It would occasionally paddle but towards the end of this week its right leg would kind of do its own thing in turbo-drive - really worrying to see.

    On Saturday, the duckling was on my desk most of the time, and would still go 'Eep, rep' if I left the room. It pooped on my keyboard as it would walk a couple of steps and sit down if I wasn't in sight. I'm only talking about leaving to go to the toilet or to get a drink from the kitchen. It was still interested in where I was if I wasn't by it. That evening I tickled its tummy and it learnt - or so I thought - to stretch out its left leg in order to raise its tummy off the ground so I could get to it. At night it went straight into its fluffy head wrap and went onto its side with its neck and head laid out - it looked so cute that way.

    On Sunday I had to go and visit my parents who live an hour away. They have a garden. The very first day I saved this duckling I was on my way to my parents so it had been in the car before, as I took it with me that first day. I drove first with one hand by the duckling who was lying down in its pen, and then I put the duckling on my lap with one hand resting by its side - just not when I needed two hands on the steering wheel. Throughout Sunday and that drive there and back from my parents, it would still keep its left leg out to keep its tummy off the floor. It wasn't anything to do with me rubbing its tummy at all. I did put my hand underneath that left leg whilst driving and the duckling sometimes kept the leg stiff or sometimes would bend it but its head was out as if it wanted to sleep. It did sleep with its head out since little as it would like to hide its head in the towels, I thought.

    That Sunday afternoon my father offered me some pineapple, and I gave Duckie Drawers some - It went crazy for its first taste, even slurping the juice from my bowl. I only gave it a little bit. It also got its first taste of pond weed and grass underneath its feet but it just sat in the grass and didn't move. I didn't want to leave it to see if it ran after me as there are foxes around but I did move a bit away and there was no movement apart from the duckling eating grass for the first time - or at least pulling at it.

    That Sunday evening after I got back home, it didn't have much energy. It fell on its back from the head wrap which wasn't even high. It used to sleep in the headwrap when it a few days old - would love to walk into it and then be gently ruffled up once in it by the hand pushing into the hand with all its might. We're talking about a fleecy supersoft towelling head wrap.

    It had fallen on its back a couple of times a few weeks ago kicking its leg and squeaking -from the hot water bottle so I then would make sure the rest of the pen was at the same level as the wrapped up hot water bottle and then removed the hot water bottle once the heatwave happened and the normal temperature was mid-20's to early 20's at night-time.

    I have rescued ducks before but never a singular one and have never witnessed a duckling on its back. Last Sunday evening when it fell on it it didn't kick its legs - just laid there. I quickly put it back on it's feet and rolled up a face flannel for it to rest its beak on. It would find its growing beak too heavy to rest on the ground so I always tried to reproduce it resting its beak on a sibling by rolling up a face flannel.

    I decided to put it's pen by me as I slept on the sofa next to it. I just didn't understand how it could fall from a head wrap as it's only the size of a face flannel, so not high at all.

    I wanted to sleep with Duckie Drawers on my chest but thought, during the night, I could roll onto it and kill it, so it was in its pen right next to me. Just before midnight, I checked on it and it was in its water for the first time and had a wet tummy.

    I took a sleeping pill at midnight as I had a meeting in the morning which I would have to leave Duckie alone in the flat whilst I went ou for but it the meeting was only for a couple of hours.

    The next morning at around 8am, when I woke up, I found Duckie dead. Its left leg out, head on the rolled up face flannel - i.e. in its sleeping position but with its eyes wide open. There was no movement, no heartbeat. However, it was only after I rocked it in my arms that its eyes started to close. I gave it mouth-to-beak and pumped its little chest a couple of times but no sign of life. I waited several hours before burying it, and I'm still really cut up about everything. Needless to say, I ended up cancelling that silly work meeting and wished I never took that sleeping pill but stayed up with it all night. I had no idea it was going to be its last night.

    I am devastated that I have killed this duckling. I know I saved it by not putting it into the lake with its siblings as soon as it was rescued as they were all eaten within half a day but I think I contributed to its death, as it died under my watch.

    I was going to pay for pathology but think its best to make a donation to a rescue centre instead, and I have offered to be a rescue ambulance for two centres that are out of London, in case they ever have any Central London calls to attend to but I still have a worry about what happened, why it died. Was it the tiny slice of avocado? Bearing in mind it wasn't walking but shuffling initially, and then when walking only for a couple of steps, so there was something wrong with its legs? It used to stretch its head out or curl it back like a seahorse. It fell on its back three times and waited for me to help it back on its feet. It was panting now and again over the last few days. What happened?

    Two years ago I rescued two sibling ducklings and gave them to a wildlife centre but the lady there told me afterwards that she feeds the rabbits to the fox, so I didn't want to do the same thing straight away this time. This little orphan was all by himself and wasn't walking properly so I felt I had to rectify that before taking him to a bird sanctuary I had found out about recently but they wouldn't treat his gait with niacin, so I waited and now the little one is dead.

    If anyone has seen a stretched out leg of any of the above symptoms, if anyone can shed any light, then please let me know. If you've taken the time to read such a long post, then I'm really grateful and you must love ducklings as much as I loved this little one.

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2014
    casportpony likes this.
  2. Onlyducks

    Onlyducks Chirping

    Apr 16, 2014
    I decided to try and answer your post. The short answer is: you will never know why the duck dies and there was nothing you could have done differently. That may sound harsh, and I know you'll keep saying in your mind for a long time that you should have saved the duck. I have had many, many different animals—ducks, reptiles, dogs, etc. Over the past 30 years, I have had many die and went through what you are going through. You play this over and over and over and you are sure you can find an answer. It only began to sink in to me about 15 years ago that no one can save every critter out there and that I could never actually figure out what went wrong in many cases. I lost a Pekin duck to two black ducks killing it. I did not know ducks did not like injured bunk mates and would kill them. I learned after that not to leave the ducks in with the others if they were injured. That probably would be my "penance" for losing the duck—I learned from it and it hasn't happened again. Other reptiles died and to this day I have no idea why—in spite of my belief that I should have known. One does the best one can and then you just have to let go. You'll probably play this over again for quite sometime, thinking that maybe there's something you missed. That's okay. In the end, though, it may simply be that the duckling never would have survived no matter what anyone did. You will never know. In time, hopefully you will get to the point that you understand that you can only do so much and be willing to accept this. I hope this doesn't keep you from trying again if you find another duckling. Sometimes they survive, sometimes they don't. But it's always worth a try, in my experience.

    (An aside here—the rescue person feeding the rabbits to the foxes is common. Baby rabbits are very, very hard to rehab. Our bird rehab people did the same thing. Ducklings are probably safe.)
    1 person likes this.
  3. Amykins

    Amykins Crowing

    May 11, 2013
    There were many things you did wrong. I don't know what you were feeding it when you first got it, but it sounds like it just wasn't getting any niacin, or enough nutrients, period. Ducklings can and have died from niacin deficiency, even after you give it to them after symptoms present itself. The damage was already done. You also fed it avocado which probably damaged its liver and heart tissues. You also never took it to a vet or wildlife shelter during the entire month long period when it was showing an alarming level of lethargy and listlessness, symptoms which you simply brushed off. I did a quick google search and found a long list of avian vets in London proper, including a couple that treat ducks.

    I apologize for my curt tone, but in the age of the internet there really is no excuse for not doing your research on an animal you don't know how to take care of.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2014
  4. barbicanbird

    barbicanbird Hatching

    Jul 27, 2014
    Thanks OnlyDucks for your perspective and support, and also Amykins for your opinion. I appreciate that both of you have taken time out to read my lengthy post and to share your experiences and opinions with me.

    I forgot to mention that this was the fourth duck I was asked to rescue this year, and the only one that has died under my watch. Altogether, I have rescued six ducklings within two years. My father used to rescue orphaned swallows when he was a child in Nazi-occupied Poland, so caring for birds is in my blood. He told me he would have to spit on flies to feed the swallows as they wouldn't eat flies that haven't been spat on.

    The other three from this year went to a friend who lives in the country by a lake. When two got ill, my friend took them to a vet and he just put them down as he did not have the knowledge to treat them. He didn't say he didn't have the knowledge but it's obvious. He also tried to charge £500 for putting them to sleep. Plus maybe he knew he couldn't legally treat wild animals that had been brought in as pets even though the longterm objective was to let them use the massive lake and still have a home when they needed it if they were ready to do this. Really he should have charged for finding out what was wrong with them. All the vet said was that they probably inherited a defect from their mother, so there was nothing he could do and put them down.

    The fourth duckling (that this post is about) was due to join the one surviving one once she/he was better. They had the same parents as they were found on the same balcony, so I would have been reuniting siblings that were born about two months apart. Digressing - the one out of those three that survived started to fly a few weeks ago, so they released him to the lake - twice. On both accounts he jumped out of the lake and started following the family, so they took him back home. He has since flown off and comes back now and again.

    Most of the ducklings have the same parents as the lake I live above is tiny and there is a lot of inbreeding going on which can also lead to defects according to the neighbours who have lived here longer than the decade I have spent here. Being in Central London just behind St Paul's Cathedral which is a stone's throw away from the River Thames, we have seagulls and herring gulls that come and tear the ducklings apart. I have seen this with my own eyes, it's horrific. At night you can hear the one or two surviving female adult mallards being chased by the drakes. They have killed most of the females. It's an awful sound, a female flying in fear being chased like that and not being able to help. Females have been killed by cars here, as they flee the lake to get away from the drakes. It's awful.

    Two years ago I rescued two ducklings from my balcony and I passed them onto the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals to Essex Wildlife Centre once they were about three weeks old. The Wildlife Centre owner would not allow me to visit as she said people do not like how she runs the place and cited feeding the rescued rabbits to the rescued fox as an example. I did not want this to happen to this duckling as I had really bonded with it. It was by itself and relied on human company for care, and it was due to go to a semi-domestic environment (my friend's by the lake as mentioned above).

    All six ducklings were looked after in the same manner (apart from the final one who was handled more as it was by itself), all fed the same type of food.

    I did ring up vets in the area but they do not treat wildlife in Central London and not wild birds. In the UK it is frowned on to keep a wild animal. In fact, I think it is illegal to keep one. This animal was born in the wild. Unlike America where I believe it is legal to keep all sorts of wild animals.

    So vets only look after domesticated pets in the UK especially our built-up city where there are no farms - unless they are vets in the country where they would also look after farm animals and, no doubt, ducks and hens bred in captivity would fall into this category. There aren't many wild animals in Central London period. I could not find a vet that would be able to treat a wild duckling - I did try, even the avian ones, they knew about Parrots and budgies and that's about it.

    I contacted the Swan Sanctuary which is out of London and they told me they would not feed the duckling niacin nor treat it in any way, but just integrate the duckling with other ducklings. Having seen how other birds attack other birds that aren't well, i was scared about this and felt the bird should benefit from treatment. Reading OnlyDucks' experience with her two black ducks killing the poorly Pekin Duck has confirmed this fear. So I thought it best to give it the love, care and niacin it needed. That is why the duckling was unable to be seen by a vet nor a sanctuary.

    Thank you, Amykins for stating in your opinion it was a niacin deficiency and that it was my fault. A vet I spoke to said it sounded like pneumonia. A doctor who deals with newborns agreed with her. Online it looked like it could be botulism due to the 'limberneck' symptoms the duckling showed when lying its head down. I did start treating with Niacin as soon as I realised there was no vet in London who had wild bird experience, and that the sanctuary would not give any treatment.

    Amykins, if you have found two vets that treat ducks in London then do please pass their numbers onto me, I would need to ensure they treat 'wild' ducks as next year I can just pass the ducklings straight to them. They may know of better wildlife centres for them to go to longterm as well.
    casportpony likes this.
  5. Brittanyjohnson1986

    Brittanyjohnson1986 In the Brooder

    Sep 18, 2017
    I realize this comment is a bit late, years to be exact, but I just couldn’t read amykins response and not comment. How heartless can you be? This person obviously was on the internet doing research if she posted the question. This site can be so awesome and people can get help that may not be as “experienced” as you. The only thing you did by commenting that was upset somebody who just lost a duckling and was looking for answers. Now because of your comment one less person might not be able to save their pet in fear that they will be told it’s their fault. God does things in mysterious ways and I can almost guarantee it was of no fault of hers. I hope the next time you come on this site looking for help, you get treated the same way.
    austroberta likes this.

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