The female mallard laid her eggs by the side of the burn just outside the garden fence. The 12 eggs were inside the lining of her very soft down feathers and as soon as they were laid the male went off and paid no attention to the ducklings when they hatched. Before that he would “escort” her up through the garden to a ground table with mixed seed and would stand on guard whilst she ate her fill. The incubation of the clutch took nearly 27 days and at the end three of the eggs did not hatch. As soon as the eggs hatched the female took the remaining nine ducklings to the nearby garden pond and immediately they were able to swim, feed themselves and even dive. They looked almost incongruous diving as with a mini leap they dived and resurfaced. Sometimes they even looked as though they did not quite know what the diving was all about. To start with they were cautious, keeping close to a bank of yellow iris growing on one side of the pond. The dense large leaves gave them protection from would be predators, and there were plenty around from crows to gulls.
After only a couple of days the female brought the ducklings up to where she had been feeding during the egg laying. It was a walk of a round thirty yards to get them to the food so , to start with, quite a way for such tiny ducklings. Whilst they were feeding the female stood guard and would see off any other potential threats that came too close and that included other mallard. However despite her caution in the first two days three ducklings were “lost”. Probably from carrion crows that have developed a strategy to catch and eat such ducklings. One crow will distract the female mallard and then its partner would swoop and catch any ducklings that had strayed. It was as if the adult was aware of this as she developed a strategy of getting the ducklings over the last few yards to the food. All the way up from the pond the ducklings were hidden from overhanging plants and then she would leave them in the nearest cover a few yards from the feed. Then, when the coast was clear she would quack to them and they would come running out to eagerly take the food.
The ducklings seemed at grow at an amazing rate and as the days went by they would rush across to a bird bath on ground near the feed. It was as if they did not have the time, or were too thirsty, to get back to the sanctuary of the pond. The efforts of the female mallard were now paying off as even after a few days there were still six very active ducklings. One was almost comical as it rebelled against the female mallard’s wishes and commands. After the feed and water the female mallard would quack and call them all together and all would comply. After all it was the signal they had had enough food and water and she was heading back to the pond. However, one duckling often chose to ignore this command and just carried on feeding without bothering to even look up. Sometimes the female mallard left the other ducklings in cover and had to come back to the wayward duckling. As I write this the ducklings have just been up again and duly fed and watered and are on their way back to the pond.
Tags: highland birds