Somehow, my six year-old daughter Josie, got it in her head that she wanted a scarlet macaw. Y'know, the giant rainbow-colored parrots that cost $3,000, stink up your house, bite your finger, squawk, and live so long that you have to write them into your will? My wife and I were not on board with this idea. So we did what any reasonable parents do: we gently ignored this obsession, hoping it would go away.
It did not.
Six months later, we needed a plan. Enter parenting strategy #2: the Bait and Switch.
Josie needed a pet. Mind you, we have a lovable, cuddly dog, but Josie needed her own pet, preferably a bird. My wife had ducks as a girl. We'd always talked about getting chickens or ducks at some unspecified time in the future, but we have a dog, two kids, no time, and enjoy having the ability to leave for a weekend. I did some research.
Chickens were out. Why? Because they're vindictive feathered dinosaurs with brains the size of sunflower seeds and eyes that stare into your soul.
Ducks, however, I find cute. Like chickens, they live outside, but ducks don't scratch up your garden. Instead, ducks eat snails and slugs. Ducks will snuggle with you. And most importantly ducks lay eggs. BIG eggs. Lots of eggs.
How about ducks, Josie?
The response was a resounding yes.
So we ordered ducklings...through the mail. It's strange, I know. As the day of their arrival neared, the excitement in our house grew to a fevered pitch. On the Wednesday of their expected arrival, I was laying in bed when my phone rang began to ring in the living room. Bleary-eyed, I glanced at my alarm clock. It read 6:00 exactly. I rolled over and went back to sleep because there was no way that the U.S. Postal Service was calling me at 6:00 am. It was an east coast telemarketer.
It was not. The voicemail was quite succinct: "Good morning. This is patty over at the post office. Come get your ducks." So we piled into the car at 7:30am and rushed over to the post office. I will tell you this. I've never seen postal workers so happy as I did that morning, handing over a chirping box to two very excited little kids.
So, while they settled into their box beneath a heat lamp, I began construction of the magical duck coop. It's a bit of a stretch to include in the Magical Playhouses portfolio, but Magical Playhouses is all about whimsical backyard structures, so why not? It's not like I was going to build a plywood box, right?
Because this would be for my family, this project would be a great project to use up all that scrap wood in my workshop. Carpenters are all pathological hoarders of wood, and there's nothing that makes us happier than finding a use for all those short pieces of wood. And then there was that small landscaping pond that's been taking up space under the deck ever since my daughter began to toddle around the yard well enough to stumble into it.
Ducks don't need a water body to play in, but they love it. The problem is that ducks are messy to begin with. Add water to the equation and you're asking for a poopy quagmire that would make a mother pig proud. To combat this, I saw some pictures online of duck tubs placed on wire mesh for drainage. I didn't have wire mesh, and it's a little unsightly if you ask me. What I did have was a bunch of mahogany I scored from my local reclaimed building supply store awhile back. It was stitched together like it was once the bottom of a futon frame or something. Tropical hardwood decking!
The duck pond was one of those little black plastic, two-tiered Home Depot deals. I filled the bottom part with concrete and set a drain in the bottom (which I cover with a rock, since the ducks like to pull it out), which flows downhill under the raised salad bar to a garden hose, which I can move around and fertilize the garden with. There was no way that I was going to be bailing poopy duck pond water every few days. Gravity is my best friend.
Next came the duck coop. Except for the hardware, mesh, some PVC for the automatic feeder and the back egg door, I had all the material in my workshop already. The back egg door I'm particularly happy about - the way I hinged the stick that props it open, and inset a magnet in it to keep it out of the ducks way when it's closed. And what duck coop would be complete without stained glass? I know, I know, I can't help myself.
Finally, the mobile coop. The last thing we wanted was to end up with one of those outdoor runs that are bare mud. It's depressing. We would let the ducks run amok in the yard on their own, but we have lots of hawks and eagles around and our yard is very open. So I made a mobile coop that they live in during the day, which is light enough that the kids can move around the yard. And when we leave for the weekend, the mobile coop mates to the duck pond, giving them some extra space and a "salad bar."
The ducks are nearly full grown now (and finally outside all of the time). We are falling into a routine, and we couldn't be happier with Saffy, Luna, Juno and Ruby. We are taking bets on who will lay the first egg later this summer. In the meantime our yard will be well watered and fertilized.
And most importantly, since those little balls of feathers arrived in the mail, there has been no mention of a scarlet macaw.