Thursday, 10 April 2014

Coots adopt new lifestyle

The last time I looked inside the coots' nest it had seven eggs and still no twigs or foliage.  This is the very first time I have known coots to nest without the constant need to add twigs and foliage to their nest.  Normally they cannot stop themselves from bringing potential (and non potential) material back to weave into an untidy heap of twigs, horse chestnut leaves, flowers, sweet wrappers and anything else that takes their fancy. This pair has abandoned the habit of a lifetime!  What also surprises us about them is that, though defensive over their nest box, they don't throw coot tantrums, stamp their webbed feet in the water and shriek at us if we get near them.  This one calmly walked into the box while I was standing right next to it.

 One of our coots taking over nest duty

Coots share the duty of sitting on eggs and guarding the nest and have regular shift changes.  If the one that's guarding the nest becomes alarmed for any reason it calls out with a shrill,  metallic and staccato burst of notes and its partner replies and comes rushing back to its defence.  If only ducks behaved in the same way.

Our female mallard, Flare Tail, is still being driven from her nest by randy drakes and her partner does little to defend her most of the time.  One particular drake is a serial offender and yet he appears to be her partner's best mate!  Sometimes the hybrid drake will drive off rivals and at other times he just seems to let them drive Flare Tail away her nest. 

 Flare Tail's partner (brown) with his best mate

Over the last few days there have been half a dozen drakes lurking around Flare Tail's nest box and making trouble.  They behave like bored teenagers with nothing better to do than hang out together looking for something to alleviate the monotony of their lives now that the female mallards are (nearly) all sitting on nests and out of sight.  This lot spell trouble for Flare Tail as their hormones are rampaging and they can't resist trying to mate with her.  She has become very good at exiting her box at speed before they can grab her but it must be taking its toll of her energy and of the amount of time needed to incubate the eggs.  Sometimes she gets back and settles for only a couple of minutes before she is attacked again.

Madame Pochard

The pochards come round several times a day for their wheat and add colour to the feeding station.  A few days back an additional male red crested pochard turned up and started to attack the female and, for a while, we thought she'd been drowned but she turned up the next day and the 'rogue' male pochard has disappeared.  Now we're back to a pair and one spare male which is how it has been for the past three years.

 An old boy

In some ways it's rather sad to see this old mandarin duck looking less than magnificent.  His crowning glory of a crest is gradually growing back but it is nowhere near as magnificent as those of the younger males.  Female mandarin ducks ignore him, choosing the showiest of the males when they strut their stuff.  Ageism exists in the duck world, too!

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