Counting ducks

Female Paradise shelduck and duckling

Female Paradise shelduck and duckling

This is the time of year that you find yourself compulsively counting ducks.

We live next to an artificially created lake, and it has become home to a wide range of birds  – both indigenous and introduced. But it is the Paradise shelducks that create the most excitement when they produce their little black and white balls of fluff.

This happened several weeks ago, when five ducklings appeared on our lake. But I soon noticed that there was something unusal about this family. The ducklings seemed to be under the almost exclusive care of the male duck; the female duck only turned up occasionally, and only for short periods. This is particularly unusual for Paradise shelducks, known for their lifetime partnering and dedication to parenting. And indeed, the sole parent arrangement took its toll, the brood of five dwindled to three and then finally to two. It was difficult not to be judgmental.

Mum and dad duck with ducklings (one of the new clutch)

Mum and dad duck with ducklings (one of the new clutch)

But one day, the family had suddenly expanded. Not only had four more (very little) pied balls of fluff appeared, but mum had too. Far from being a neglectful parent, this mother had been been sitting on a second clutch of eggs elsewhere and was only able to make fleeting visits to her family during that time. Since then, both parents have been ever-present, each taking their respective roles with parenting. (Mum usually staying close to the ducklings, and dad shooing off any other ducks that come too close to his family.)

I have continued my compulsive counting, but fortunately there has been little need to revise figures. Since both parents have been back on the scene, only one of the new clutch has been lost.

See also: The spoonbills are back! Mixing homes with nature

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