Monday, 21 July 2014

More comings and goings in the duck world

Last weekend we helped the mallard in nest box 1 launch her ducklings.  She led them upstream and that's the last we saw of them.  Once I'd cleaned out her box and placed fresh straw inside, a tufted duck, probably the one that has already laid some eggs in box 2, showed signs of interest in the box. We've seen her enter the box a few times now and on Friday an obvious nest scrape appeared. By Saturday, however, it had been flattened out and yesterday we were amazed to see Lonely, the black hybrid duck, lead 7 ducklings out of the box!  She's been using it as a creche for her babies.

 Four of Lonely's seven ducklings

We don't know where Lonely nested but she has been hanging around all day with her newly hatched ducklings.  Originally she had been looking at one of our top deck boxes but obviously found somewhere that suited her secretive ways better.

It was amusing to watch her various attempts to lead her ducklings up box 1's plank during the day yesterday.  She'd succeed in leading three into the box and the others would swim under the box and call out to her.  Sometimes she even managed to persuade all seven up the plank but some would fall off and she'd have to come out of the nest box to encourage them to join her.  As soon as she left the box to collect the recalcitrant ducklings those in the box would follow her out and the whole farce would start again.  Eventually persistence paid off and all seven followed her into the box.

Lonely with her seven

She spent much of yesterday travelling up and down our stretch of the river and giving the ducklings regular rest breaks on either our large plank or inside the nest box.  I hoped that she would use the box as a creche last night and we were delighted to see her lead all seven ducklings out of box 1 this morning.

A couple of minutes ago Dave heard a lot of splashing and quacking outside box 1 and saw Lonely attacking a female tufted duck.  It would seem that Lonely and her ducklings were resting in the nest box and a female tufted duck tried to enter.  She was soon seen off but is now hanging around again after Lonely decided to take her ducklings upstream.  In fact, Dave's just told me that the tufty has just gone into box 1.  We think she must be the tufted duck that has spent over an hour this morning sitting outside the entrance to box 2 staring at the occupant tufted duck.  We're pretty sure that both tufted ducks have laid eggs in the same box, hence the appearance of two ducks in the same box on occasions.

Meanwhile, Flaretail surprised us by appearing with several ducklings out of the top deck nest box. When she felt it was time to launch the ducklings some of them refused to leave and she became very distressed.  Eventually we placed the reluctant ducklings in a net and carried them down from upstairs to place them in the river.  Flaretail headed off with all twelve ducklings and that's the last we saw of them, too!  Only Lonely seems to have kept her ducklings in the area and, so far, kept all seven of them safe from predators.

 Cute coots!

The two young coots are growing apace and spend most of their time with us.  I couldn't resist this image of one of the youngsters tucked into the empty feed box.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ducklings at last

We've been monitoring nest box 1 using an internal camera and were delighted, at the weekend, to see signs of the ducklings starting to hatch. It usually takes about 24 hours before all the ducklings have hatched and are ready to be led to the water by the female mallard. Not all the ducklings are keen to take their first swim and it sometimes takes a fair amount of coaxing by 'mum' to get them to join her.

First one out

When the mother thinks it's time to 'launch' her brood she leaves the nest and quacks loudly at the ducklings in an effort to get them to follow her. Some are keen but others have to be persuaded and the longer the process takes the more fraught the mother duck becomes. With only one duckling prepared to join her our mum headed back to the nest box to persuade the rest of her brood. 

Mother duck tries to persuade her other ducklings to join her

When only some of the ducklings are in the river the mother faces a dilemma.  If she leaves those in the river and returns to the box the ducklings in the river may disperse and be lost.   Meanwhile, because she can hear the babies inside the box emitting their high pitched calls to her, she won't abandon the remaining babies.  While our mallard was still in the river with a single duckling, a tufted duck nesting in box 2, came out to see what all the fuss was about and attacked the duck and her duckling.  The duckling dived and disappeared and the mother got even more distraught so we decided to lend a helping hand and lift the remaining ducklings out of their nest and place them in the river with their mum. 

A reluctant duckling

One of the ducklings was still reluctant to leave its nest and tried to get back inside! We had to turn it around and persuade it to join its mum.

 It's safer on mum's back

We were worried about the duckling that had been attacked but it soon rejoined its mother and decided to jump on her back for safety. I've never seen a duckling on its mother's back before although swans and grebes carry their young on their backs.

 This is fun

The duckling seemed to enjoy the experience of a free ride on mum's back but was soon shrugged off.

The female tufted duck from box 2, the one that attacked the mallard and her duckling, has been having problems of her own. While we've been monitoring her box we were amazed to see another female tufty sneak in while she was away from the nest. When she returned she did her best to force the intruder from the box being careful not to damage the eggs. This has happened several times since then and we're a little confused as to which tufted duck is the original 'tenant'. We have a suspicion that another female has also being laying eggs in the same box, hence the attempt at a 'take over'.

This tufted duck has attitude

We think this must be our nesting tufted duck, the one that attacked the mallard. She is determined to defend her nest box and is aggressive towards any other duck in the vicinity of her home! She had a real go at the mandarin duck (above) when it tried to join her on the plank. They got into a furious fight and eventually the tufted duck drove off the mandarin duck. Usually mandarin ducks are the most aggressive but our tufty is definitely feisty.

Our tufty sees off the mandarin duck

Once the mallard in box 1 hatched her ducklings and led them off upstream I cleared out the nest debris and poured boiling water into the box to kill any mites. When the box had dried out I put fresh straw inside in the hope that our mallard would bring her young ducklings back to the box to use as a night time roosting place. We haven't seen her with any ducklings but this morning another female tufted duck was checking out box 1 and it's possible that we'll have another duck taking advantage of the box 1.  

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Musical nest boxes

After the mallards had abandoned their nest, having had all the eggs predated, I tidied up the box and forgot about it for a few days. When I went to check it and add some more straw, in case the mallards decided to start nesting again, a tufted duck shot out of it as I lifted the lid.  I'm not sure which of us was more taken aback!  Inside were three eggs so the female tufty must have occupied the box the moment it was abandoned by the mallards.  She had been hanging around both nest boxes for a long time and had already laid three eggs in this box several weeks before but had been 'kicked out' by the mallard.

Three 'tufty' eggs

The tufted duck has really had to defend her nest, however.  Every day the mallard pair attempt to re-occupy the box and the tufted duck has to fight her corner.  She hardly ever leaves the nest which means that the mallards aren't able to sneak back in during her absence. The image below shows the female mallard attempting to take back her old nest.

 The mallard refuses to give up her nest box

 Female tufted duck finds her nest occupied

On one occasion, during a brief absence from the nest, the tufted duck was unable to re-enter her nest box  because the mallard had reclaimed it.  The tufty squatted outside the entrance to the box looking miserable for a while and then swam off and 'sulked' with her partner on our 'chill out' plank.

The 'tufty' pair retire to the plank

Drake is driven from nest box by female 'tufty'

I don't think the mallards are really ready to start nesting again. Although they regularly try to reclaim their old nest they don't hang around for long.  The female tufted duck was able to return to her nest after a while and, later in the day, drove away the mallard drake when he was unwise enough to put his head inside the nest box!

 Female mallard refuses to abandon 'her' nest

Every day the mallards persist in checking out their old nest. They hang around for a while but are gradually getting used to the idea that the female tufted duck has no intention of relinquishing her new home.  She is extremely feisty in the defence of her eggs!

 Female 'tufty' takes a break for a snack

Male 'tufty' preparing to dive for wheat

Yesterday I saw the tufted duck behaving in a distressed manner and noticed that she had an egg in her beak and was carrying it away from the nest box.  She appeared to be eating the contents of the egg. While she was off her nest I checked inside and saw yolk covering the bottom of the box. 

When the tufted duck returned to her nest she spent over an hour clearing up the mess, moving straw around, carrying soggy straw away from the box and eating as much of the spilled yolk as possible. I had added some fresh straw while she was absent and she gradually used this to replace the mucky straw that she had thrown out.

Later that day I saw a crow about to raid the box so I guess that the crow must have broken one of the eggs as it tried to steal it.