Go and Feed the Ducks....
Here is a true duck story. There is no punch line, no moral, just a captivating account of Pauline and Guy's
experience of Mallard ducks.
Neither my wife Pauline nor I are animal lovers. So one of our easiest prenuptial agreements was not to have pets. Mallard ducks are our sort of animal. They need no house room, we can
them for an hour, then ignore them until the next day. We can feed the ducks when we like. Should we miss a day, they can forage, or more likely, beg bread from another duck-loving softie.
Spring - Ducklings are Born
Our duck story begins around the end of May. Just down from our house there is a sizeable pond. This particular spring there were three mother ducks, they had clutches of 5, 6, and 7 ducklings. In
addition, there were three or four '
Aunts'. An Aunt is what we call the older female ducks, who have no chicks of their own, but nevertheless hang around the pond. At this time, the '
ducks - Guy word for drakes -
flew off. A man with a dog said he thought they had flown to a nearby pond for sanctuary. We never knew for sure. Whatever, in about 6 weeks the '
returned to check out their Wives.
chicks were small, they would parade in crocodile fashion, their proud mother in the lead. In those early days, Pauline and I just admired the ducks as we walked by the side of the pond. We knew that
neighbours children were giving the ducks bread. However, it wasn't
until our own nephews'
came to stay that we started feeding the ducks. Our first attempt to feed them was not a great success, they turned
up their noses at the Cornflakes, (well they were ancient) however, the dead scones and old cake crumbs were acceptable.
visit was over, but Pauline and I had the taste for feeding the ducks.
We started by just throwing bread into the water. When the slices of bread were finished, and we had no more food to give, we set off for home. When we turned around the ducks came out of the water, and started
following us pleadingly. Well it worked, I looked at Pauline and in an instant, we both agreed that I should run back for fresh supplies.
When we went to feed the ducks, we threw the bread on the water.
The ducklings would respond by paddling frantically, this caused their heads moved rapidly from side to side movement. This turbo charged swimming meant the fluffy ducklings could race their parents
to the food. The aloof adults just cruised up sedately and
were content with a few crumbs. Sometimes when we arrived at the edge of the pond there were no ducks. They were at the other end of the pond, or were sleeping under the trees. As we walked towards them, we
heard the mother Jemima 'quack'. It seemed silly, but devilment took over, and we 'quacked'
too, this excited them and they 'quacked'
back. Then suddenly the whole
squadron of ducklings came paddling like fury towards us.
While Henrietta and Jemimah, the two older female ducks were identifiable from the other ducks, at first all the drakes seemed the same.
Therefore, I called any drake a 'Daddy'. You can distinguish the adult male drake from the female ducks by the male's
bright green heads and flashes of blue in their wings.
At first the
drakes were not interested in our food, either they were not hungry, or they just could not bother with the hurly burly of the youngsters feeding. However, gradually these drakes muscled their way into the action.
Pauline and I were alarmed by the way the Daddies picked up the chicks in their beak and flung them out of the way, as if they thought the youngster was invading their feeding space. Nature in the raw
It was tranquil by the
pond. Sometimes beloved Pauline and I would just sit on the seat and watch the animal life. The ducks would swim over, come out of the water and then waddle over to us. We experimented with several feeding techniques. I favoured tossing
bread into each mouth in turn. If it was a good throw, the duck caught the bread in its beak; if I missed, there was a mad scramble. Pauline favoured lobbing a shower of pieces, so that lots of ducks could
feed at once, with less squabbling. Occasionally, Pauline gave out a huge piece, just to see a lucky duck waddle off into the bushes. Inevitably the triumph was short lived as two or three other
ducks chased after the victor and snatched chunks until the lump of bread was just crumbs.
Soon the 18 duckling became one big happy gang. Four or five of the senior ducks disappeared. I expect these mothers and Aunts were worn out by
their offspring. One surprise was that the ducklings were faster and more adept at getting the bread than their parents. While many of the ducklings could catch bread in their mouths, the parent ducks were
less agile. Sight and co-ordination seem to fade quickly in the duck world.
In order to feed Henrietta and Jemimah's
we developed a special technique. We threw a large crumb so that one bounce and the
bread landed at their feet. This gave Henrietta or Jemimah a head start, but it was not always enough as the nimble youngsters could nip in and get it before Jemimah could see it, bend and collect the morsel. She would retaliate
and peck lumps out of the interloper. On these occasions, she had our sympathy. We loved all the ducks and although tempted, we never laid a hand or boot on even the naughtiest. Instead, we relied on subtlety to get the feeding
rations where they were most needed.
One wet day, when we were unable to go and feed the ducks, Pauline looked out of the window and was amazed to see a gaggle of our ducks on our lawn. They seemed to be saying, 'we'
hungry'; 'please can you give us a snack'
. Well of course, Pauline fed them in our garden, which is 80 yds from the pond and up a 30 ft bank.
If time was short, or it was raining, or just for fun, we
the ducks from our bank. Jemima would 'quack'
back from the far side of the pond, then all the Mallards would swim over to our end of the pond. When they reached the
shore they waddled up the bank. Occasionally, an eager duck would fly at least part of the way up the bank. They ate heartily on the bank of our lawn, but always had an eye out for danger. Any hint of peril and they would fly
back down to the safety of the water.
Also at the pond, were a family of moorhens. Their red nodding beaks and jerky swimming style made them quite distinctive. The moorhens were timid compared with
the ducks, and to our way of thinking, much less intelligent. When the moorhens were on their own, they ignored any bread that we threw near them. Pauline had a soft spot for the moorhens, and we made a game of trying to
feed them. Strangely, when the ducks came to feed, the moorhens would swoop on the bread. It was as if they needed the ducks to show them that the bread was good to eat, only then would the moorhens forage. However, it
was not as simple as that because the ducks would chase and try to force the moorhens to drop the bread. The moorhens had to quickly reach their
hidey holes in the reeds, or lose their snack.
One day we were feeding the ducks as usual,
when we noticed that one of the ducks was laying still in the grass. It was is if she was nesting, except she was the wrong age, it was the wrong season and the duck was sitting in an exposed position. On
closer inspection, we could see that one of her
legs was useless. Probably broken. Neither Pauline or I are noted animal lovers, but our hearts went out to the duck. Luckily, ducks are truly amphibious and she could still swim into the water,
and thus escape from marauding dogs.
Pauline phoned the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), but there was no reply. Dicky Leg as we called the duck, was obviously in distress. We thought
that its best chance was to make sure that it was well fed. We reasoned that if she had food, she would have the will to live. So we devised a plan where I distracted the majority of ducks,
meanwhile Pauline fed Dicky Leg. Well animals are cruel, and the other ducks attacked Dicky Leg and tried to take away her food. Rather than fight back she would just slink off. Therefore, my
distraction tactics had to be improved. This time I ran 20 yds then threw a mass of bread for the
hordes of ducks to fall upon. Now Pauline had the opportunity to feed Dicky Leg.
for Dicky Leg's
survival. On the next day, it was with some trepidation that we went down to see the ducks. We were mightily relieved that Dicky Leg was no worse.
After three days she
could hobble on land with the others. Five days later she limped all the way up the 30 ft bank, this brought tears to Pauline's
eyes. Pauline made sure that Dicky Leg had a good meal each day, as a
result she grew bigger, and was no longer the runt of the gang. As the weeks went by, the recovery was so compete that it was almost impossible to tell Dicky Leg
from the other ducks.
In September the ducklings were as big, if not bigger, than their mothers. For some time Pauline and I had been wondering about the gender of the chicks. In the first weeks they all
looked similar and their colouring was just like their mothers. However, the Mallard '
all had magnificent green heads, and my beloved spotted they also had a white necklace marking. One day, out of
the blue, or should it be out of the green, one of the chicks had a faint, but definite, green tinge about its eyes. Within a week 3 other chicks had developed the unmistakable drake colouring. So from the 18
chicks 4 boys and 6 girls grew up and 8 ducklings were lost.
One tranquil Indian summer day in October, we had finished feeding the ducks and were just sitting on the seat, admiring the evening. Most of
the ducks had swum serenely back to the other end of the pond. However, two ducks lingered under the tree. They began dipping their beaks in the water. This was evidently a courtship
ritual as their head nodding got
more intense, and rhythmical. Next they stroked each other's
necks - literally necking. Suddenly, the drake mounted the duck. It was all over very quickly. We both commented how unkind
it was for the drake to hold the duck's
head under the water during mating. An ornithologist said on T.V. that the exceptionally warm Autumn makes the birds think it's spring. Well it certainly confused those two Mallards.
During the winter months fewer
people seemed to feed the ducks. So they roamed. We could see them flying off on day trips to all points of the compass, probably to nearby ponds. It's
probably all part of their normal wanderlust
At this time a seagull came and settled on the lake. I must say there was something about the way it took the ducks'
bread that I did not like, and I do confess to throwing stones at it.
Something I would never do to the ducks.
When the snows came, like many animals, the ducks became extremely tame and came up into our front garden in search of food. We did not disappoint them.
Our duck story continues into the second year. The onset of spring
was marked by a profusion of willow catkins; the trees took on a gentle greedy yellow tinge. The ducks'
behaviour, like all the rest of nature, took to courtship. Males and females paired up and swam around
the pond together. There seemed to be four pairs. As time went on two of the girls seemed to hide away, I hoped they were nesting. One of the other girls - we called her Mary - had two suitors, Henry who
sported the regular Mallard colours, and Edward who had white and brown genes. The ménage à trois were inseparable.
My own beloved, Pauline, read that it's
the female ducks who make the most noise. This
certainly rang true for Henrietta last summer. We could not help noticing that Edward was a very talkative duck, even if he did not generate the volume that Henrietta could. Whether it was his noisy
behaviour or his unusual colouring we are not sure, but whatever the reason, one or two the other 'Daddy'
ducks tried to mate with Edward.
Once or twice a week we saw the other female with her husband,
we just hope that they are making a nest and that she will lay a good clutch of eggs.
The evenings are drawing out now, and after supper the ducks come right up to our house. We love feeding them by
throwing bread through the window. Occasionally Blue Beak would try to get in on the act, Edward and Henry would see him off by dropping their beaks, extending their necks and charging. Sometimes they would
ruffle his tail feathers, but mostly the threat was enough.
Later in the summer, Blue Beak acquired a friend called Rodney, and now and then, another friend called Titch. It seemed that three Amigos, Mary Edward and Henry
got first choice of any food, thereby becoming noticeably fatter than the other ducks. When they had their fill of bread, they reward us by sitting still a nesting position for hours. Pauline believes that Mary
is Dicky Leg, I agree that her gait shows a distinct limp.
In April a pair of Swans dropped in. The way they move on water is quite majestic. The pair take food, and co-exist amicably with the ducks. One day they were gone. However in a few days one returned.
My Mother says they mate for life, so we are hoping that the female is hidden in the shrubbery laying some eggs.
One day my darling Pauline and I
went to the Ginny Ring Craft Centre. There we saw a marvellous picture of five or six ducks, we just had to buy the picture to remind us of our time feeding the ducks.
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