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Hatching Green Head Mallard Eggs

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
The Rodessa Oil Field in Northeast Texas, held a lifetime of experiences for me as I grew up there in Cass County. This was in the years following the Great Depression. My dad was a pumper for an oil company and many is the day that I, as a country kid, followed him about his chores in the oil patch.

Just up the red dirt road a piece from the Rambo crossroads at FM 125, was the W. D. Chew oil lease. That lease had two wells on it and was only a short distance from one oil well on the Bogus Lease. With wells in close proximity like that, my dad would often park his old work truck at one well and walk to the others. It was a generally wooded area. Very close to the main service road was a tall old oak tree with some of its trunk broken away and rotted near the top. There was a hollow place; a hole in the trunk, way up there.

Every day my dad frequented the area and daily, kept noticing a wild Greenhead Mallard go in and out of that tree hole. It was a Mallard hen. After seeing the same activity at the same time every day for a while, he began to suspect that the hen was laying her eggs in a nest. She would only stay in the hole long enough to lay an egg, then leave. Dad would often tell me what he thought was taking place there. Very soon, visions of hatching, raising and domesticating some baby Greenhead Mallard ducklings began to circulate through his head.

Waiting for a couple of weeks to give the hen long enough to lay her nest full of eggs, he decided it was time to make his move. Plus, timing was perfect; he just happened to have an old Rhode Island Red yard hen that was "setting" on a nest at home. So, one morning dad took an egg basket and climbed that old oak tree; way up to the top, right to the Mallard hen's nest. (Please don't try this at home.) Reaching down into the hollow trunk, he gathered all of her eggs. He was so happy that the possibility of having some pretty little Mallard ducklings at home was getting even closer.

I must have been only seven or eight years old at the time and remember very well dad arriving home within a few minutes of robbing the Mallard's nest. He headed straight for the barn with those wild duck eggs. I was really excited too, so I followed close behind. We were about to begin our first step to producing some of those beautiful little green head ducklings. Dad found his setting hen on her nest. She had no eggs of her own since we probably had gathered and eaten those in the previous weeks. He began to slip a few of the Mallard eggs under that old setting hen. She seemed not to mind, so he put a few more under her warm and fluffy down. Soon he had put a nest full of those eggs under her and apparently the old hen suddenly realized what was happening, or perhaps she got a smell of those wild "foreign" eggs. She stomped around and broke a few of those prize eggs. Dad got angry. She then went totally berserk; stomping and crushing every one of those duck eggs; jumping and flopping about, not standing still one second for those "alien" eggs. Dad got very, very angry; as angry as I had ever seen him. In all the mayhem, he had lost every one of his prize Mallard eggs, as well as all the time and effort he had put into his dream. Bless his heart, he really tried. That old setting hen just didn't cooperate. Angrily he quickly grabbed the old hen by the neck and yanked her off the nest fast as lightening. All the while uttering some very unpleasant words. He flipped that old hen about in a few quick circles and "wrung" her stubborn neck, right then and there. ("Wrung her neck" is country talk meaning the first process of dressing a chicken and getting it ready for cooker and on the dinner table.)

As a very timid kid, watching all that commotion definitely frightened me. In the heat of anger, I surely didn't want to get my neck wrung. I had, on occasion, heard some adults tell a sassy kid, "I ought to just wring your neck." Now, I knew what that meant. So I quickly ran to the house and hid under the bed until things cooled down a bit.

Never, to this day, has another opportunity arisen to try and hatch wild Mallard eggs. And, the best part of this story is my family and I enjoyed a very delicious pot of chicken and dumplings for the next few days. None of the others ever knew why or how quickly that rebellious old hen wound up in mom's dumpling pot. And I never told, but I witnessed it all.

N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" February 1, 2006 Column

Subject: Hatching Green headed Mallards

Ed, Interestingly, I was searching the web for information on hatching mallard eggs and your short story popped up as priority under my search parameters. My folks had a Mallard hen nesting at their front door. After laying 14 eggs, the neighborhood cats sniffed her out and she ultimately abandoned her brood. I called a buddy you had hatched chickens in the past and borrowed his incubator. Results and still unknown as I am just two weeks in. I got such a kick out of your story that I printed it for my dad to read. Your father's reaction was so typical of what my father would have done if faced with the same scenario. I love your writing style. Great job! And please continue... Sincerely, Drew G. Mullert, New Bedford, MA, May 22, 2008

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