Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Afternoon update

It's now 14.00hrs and there are 10 healthy ducklings exploring the river with their beleaguered mother. She had two tranquil hours with them but is now being attacked by a gang of male ducks with no mates. Regrettably there are far to many drakes around so the females are sexually harassed and, not to put too fine a point on it, gang raped. As this usually occurs on the water, a female with more than one male on top of her, and sometimes there are as many as four or five, will drown if she can't escape. Even if she manages to escape her feathers may be waterlogged and she will need to dry off and oil her feathers before returning to the water. Sometimes a duck gets chased back in to the water before it is able to recover, with fatal consequences.

After an anxious few minutes Beaky has just flown back to our top deck to dry off and we're chasing off any males. I can hear her ducklings "pip pip pipping" to her from the middle of the river and she's squawking distress calls to them to let them know she's around. It's hard not to be a little protective towards a duck that's shared our garden with us for nearly six weeks but we try not to intervene too much.

In the early days we used to get so upset at the attrition rate of ducklings. We'd watch mothers with up to 18 ducklings launch their young on one day, return with only 12 later after several hours and gradually lose them all, sometimes in a matter of days. Pike, herons and crows are all looking to feed their own young at this time of year and I've also seen Canada geese attack ducklings. Some ducks, however, manage to raise all their young every year, more of which another time.

That's all for now . . . more news tomorrow

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