Mallard Mansions
By Hannah Vainstein and Mallard Duck(s)

Started on: 04/22/09 21:54:11
Medium: Sculptural

I have been working an making little houses out of cardboard, string and yarn for the animals that inhabit the spaces outside of my studio. On numerous occasions we have had birds and squirrels make their way into our studio. Recently I have been watch and spending time with the two courting Mallard ducks. These ducks have been spending quite a bit of time wondering around the grassy areas around the art department and because of this our paths keep crossing.

I feel particularly connected to Mallards and i used to have a duck James that I was very close with. At first James lived in my bathroom but as he got larger he had to move out with the chickens. I would take him to the lake to go swimming. James preferred however, to rest on my back and I would ferry him across the water. Eventually I had to give James to a school that had a pond so he could live amongst other ducks.

Working with the Mallards would be a wonderful opportunity. I know that the ducks are looking for a place to nest and that one of their eggs has already been attacked by a crow. I am hoping that the ducks might take interest in my little house and lay their eggs in there.

For the past couple of weeks I have been sitting with the ducks and spending time with them hoping to develop a relationship with them. At times we have occupied the same space looking at each other and watching each other.

Yesterday I brought out the little house that I made for them. I have brought it out once before and they seemed indifferent. I received the same response again. I watched spaces they were occupying and I decided to leave it there for them to discover in their own time without the pressure of me being there. I left the little house where i had seen the female laying earlier.

This morning I went by to check on the house and see if the ducks had embraced the structure. This morning I found it empty and the ducks gone. The cardboard was a bit soggy and damp so I took it into my studio to dry off.

I still would like to work with these ducks and give them a safe place to lay their eggs. Hopefully the house can prevail.
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Comment by mlifshin (04/30/09 02:26:55):
Check out this information I found online on Mallard nesting habits. You could experiment with what they're saying, using rushes, grass, weeds, or fine feathers, or materials like those, as a covering, and incorporate them into your designs, to see if it will draw the Mallards' interest.

"The nesting site may be close to a pond but is frequently at some distance and may even be far from water. Normally on the ground, the nest is little more than a depression lined with bits of rushes, grass, weeds, or other material close at hand. It is usually in good cover such as thick grass, or under a buckbrush, brier rose, or other prairie shrub. The eggs, which with different birds may vary in colour from dull green to almost white, are laid daily. Up to 15 may be deposited, but the usual number is between 8 and 12.

Incubation, or warming of the eggs until they hatch, does not start until the last egg has been laid. This ensures that all the ducklings will hatch at approximately the same time. During the laying period, and particularly in the early stages of incubation, the female sheds down, or fine feathers, from her belly to line the nest. This grey down, with white centres, is pulled over the eggs when the duck leaves the nest to feed. It not only supplies warmth but hides the eggs from crows, magpies, and other predators, which are quick to find uncovered eggs."

Project Updates
05/06/09 11:06:24 - Gone Gone Gone

After my attempted at introducing a house to the Mallard birds they seem to have disappeared. After several weeks of wondering and waddling around the art department maybe they have had enough. It also could be that the art department was just not a safe place to raise a family.

The day I took the house away the ducks were nowhere to be seen. At first this seemed normal, as they had disappeared a couple times before few a few days. For the next week I checked every day to see if they would reappear. It has been nearly two weeks and I fear that they have left. I'm pretty sure that they have.

I hope that I didnít have anything to do with them disappearing. I would feel so sad if I had upset their environment in anyway to make them feel that it was unsafe. I suppose whether is was my fault or not the art department was unsafe as a crow had already taken one of their eggs.

I feel as if I had gone about building a good relationship with the couple. Whenever I saw them I would stop and sit down near them. We always made eye contact and they had seem curious about me. Sometimes the male would waddle up closer to me and I would respond to him with the most duck like movements I could muster to show my interest in him. This mainly would consist of me making little duck clucking noises and the way I use my head to look at him. I sincerely hope that I didnít over step a boundary with the mating ducks. I still have this house and I have another small one and I wonder what other uses they may have. Maybe I will take them to Sedgwick.

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06/03/09 16:34:07 - The Return

Ah ha! The ducks have returned! Last week I noticed two little creatures wondering around the art department. I sat for a while and observed where and what they were up to. I was trying to discover why they may have left and where they are living. The next day my investigations took me to Diego.

I had to ask him for permission to set up my duck house and leave it over night. Permission was granted but he informed me that they had a predator far greater then the seagull or raven or what ever bird it was that eat its egg. That predator's name is Michael (from the wood shop Shmit). My next step was to see Michael and find out why he wants to eats the ducks. Michael informed me that the ducks have been attracted to the art department because... the ladies in the museum feed them! Apparently every morning the ladies at the museum give them food and if they art late the ducks poop at their door.

After finding out this information I had several reactions. Firstly I wondered how ethical it is to my project if I used food to seduce the ducks into the little house so that they are comfortable with the structure. And second, I have been thinking about the repercussions of feeding the ducks.

Michael felt that the ladies feeding the ducks were doing the ducks a disservice because they were inhabiting an area that does not protect them from predators. Now if I use their dependency on humans to introduce them to a home I wonder how helpful my house will actually be as it is made out of only wire string and cardboard, hardy a challenge for a little raccoon to brake and enter.

These questions however have been put on the back burner as the ducks once again disappeared. I am starting to think that they may have another home and only come to get food in the morning.

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