Apparently, ‘Berserk male syndrome’ is a thing. It can happen to male animals that grow up isolated from their own species but in close contact with people – like bottle-raised lambs, roosters from single hatches etc. When they are young, they are cute and cuddly, but as they grow, they change and become aggressive. They see humans as their own species and become competitive and territorial, sometimes even want to mate with them. It’s incurable and it’s very sad, really.
I came across beserk male syndrome when I did research, trying to find out what was wrong with my duck Shulman. Shulman is a strange bird. He is a so-called ‘mule duck’ – a hybrid between two species of duck: a muscovy and a mallard-derived duck. These ducks (also called ‘moulards’) are sterile and they are bred for meat, as they grow very big. Shulman escaped this fate when he was taken as a day-old duckling and given to one of the daycare facilities in our kibbutz by a well-meaning grandfather, who thought it would be nice for the kids to have a duckling.
Yes, it was nice for the kids. But it wasn’t so nice for the duck. He grew up in a rabbit cage, with a lot of attention from children and parents, but without any contact with other ducks. He was raised by people with no knowledge whatsoever about ducks. When my youngest son started attending this daycare, I found there a lone, fully grown male moulard duck in a rabbit cage, with no opportunity to swim or stretch his wings, eating only white bread. I was at that moment just starting up my pet zoo and offered to take Shulman. The daycare teacher was relieved – she was beginning to anxiously wonder what to do with the duck, now that he wasn’t so cute and little anymore.
So, I took Shulman as soon as my duck pond was fixed and ready. He was my first duck – even one of the first animals I ever got. Knowing how he had been living for the first 6 months of his life, it was a pleasure to see him exploring all the space he had now, nibbling carefully on some greens and splashing in the pond. He learned to eat proper poultry food and vegetables and became glossy and goodlooking. We got two young muscovy ducks, Boris and Katya, who befriended Shulman. He seemed happy and I was glad I got him out of that bad situation. He was still a friendly duck, although he sometimes got into my personal space a bit too insistently, nibbling my boots and following me around everywhere.
It was around the time that Katya began laying eggs that Shulman really changed. We had a few complaints from people before that they found the duck threatening, but now he started to attack. He had no fear of people and saw us as his equals – as his rivals, in fact. The pet zoo grounds were his territory and it was his job to run off any intruders (visitors). He started to attack me whenever I moved towards the feeder. When I pushed him away or tried to stop him in any way, he would stretch himself out as tall as he could get, flap his wings aggressively and attack again. It came to the point that I couldn’t get to the feeder without holding Shulman off with a broomstick.
We decided that Shulman had become too dangerous to be loose in the pet zoo with small children. He now lives in a cage during the day. I let him out in the evening, so he can swim and socialise, and lock him up again in the morning. We are currently looking into rehoming him in a ‘food forest’ nearby – a place that grows food plants and trees naturally and uses geese and ducks to control weeds.
I will not put Shulman down or sell him for meat. People made him the way he is, it is not his fault. First of all, he is an interspecies hybrid, conceived by human intervention, and he doesn’t really fit in with either my small flock of muscovies or the bigger group of mallard ducks I have now. He will always be the odd duck out. Second, the way he grew up, isolated from his own kind, has psychologically damaged him beyond repair. Ducks are flock animals and social interaction from their own kind is crucial for them.
So – don’t be tempted by cute fuzzy little Easter ducklings if it means they will grow up in your house. Don’t give ducklings as a gift to a child or to anyone who doesn’t know how to take care of them. And never let a duckling grow up by itself, with only humans for company. It’s a recipe for disaster – especially if they are male. The chance of ‘berserk male syndrome’ later in life is high, and you don’t want to get there. I’ve been there and it’s not pretty.