Our ducks

Mr and Mrs Duck first appeared in our garden in 1998. They returned every year until 2005, and became like old friends. You can tell them apart very easily because drakes, such as Mr Duck, have shiny green heads and white neckbands while the females, known simply as ducks, are mottled brown.

Ducks in their first water tray

In 1998 they arrived on 30th May, and both birds returned almost daily at first. An extra drake appeared on 31st May, and in the excitement Mr Duck fell off the fence into the garden but managed to fly out again. The pair continued to come until the 14th of June.

In 1999 they reappeared on 11th April but only came occasionally after that until 30th May.

The year 2000 saw a change in their activities. They arrived much earlier than in previous years, first appearing on 30th March. They continued to visit us several times a day right through until July, apart from just one week when we didn't see them at all. Mrs Duck, always braver than Mr Duck, began to feed from my hand. In the evenings they usually stayed until about half an hour after sunset, getting gradually later as the evenings became longer.

Their normal pattern is to fly in and land on the open area of park beside our garden. From there they walk down to the unfenced area of grass at the edge of our garden. To start with we gave them brown bread soaked in water. Most ducks like bread, but they can choke on it if it is dry, and white bread is particularly bad for them. Mrs Duck soon acquired a taste for mixed corn, and soon Mr Duck took to this as well. We either scatter this on the grass or put it in a shallow dish of water. Mrs Duck particularly likes the dish. We also put out a large tray of water, and Mrs Duck loves to wash in this, though it is used by both. At first we used a much smaller tray, but had to replace it because it was too small for them both to sit in at the same time. The only time I have seen the Mr Duck go for Mrs Duck was when he wanted his turn in the tray while she was sitting in it. Now there is room for both to sit in it at the same time.

In common with the other females, Mrs Duck likes to hunt for slugs and other titbits in the grass, though Mr Duck, like the other drakes, seems to prefer the corn. Often the drakes hardly seem to eat at all because they are so busy guarding their mates.

After they have fed, they usually hang around doing nothing very much until twilight. Sometimes they go for a walk across the park, returning later to feed again. Mr Duck usually likes to feed just before they are about to depart. Mrs Duck is usually the first to be ready to leave. She signals this to him by standing up rather tall and jerking her head backwards and forwards. He then starts to do this too, often facing a different direction to her. This may go on for some minutes before they are both facing the same direction. They then take off, using the road as a runway until they are clear of the houses. Flying seems to be much more of an effort than for smaller birds and, although they can take off instantly if there is danger, their normal pattern seems to be to think about it for some minutes first. It is exciting to see them take off and land. They look so big – it's almost like watching aeroplanes land in our small garden!

Duck feeding on corn

During the course of the summer there were several occasions when an extra drake arrived. Although Mr Duck would protest at the arrival of the extra drake, he rarely made physical contact with the newcomer, even if the stranger succeeded in mating with the female.

In the middle of May the ducks disappeared for a ten-day period. We wondered if they had a nest and lost the eggs. From 1st June onwards we saw only Mr Duck, and we assumed that Mrs Duck was once again nesting. Mr Duck was often joined by other drakes and, without the presence of females, they seemed to tolerate each other, sometimes coming together to feed.

On 9th June Mrs Duck returned. We never saw her arrive. The first we knew of it was seeing a crowd of children chasing her, first in our own garden and then in a neighbour's garden and up onto the park. I went up to the park, drove off the children and called her and she ran quickly to me as she was extremely hungry. Her mate flew overhead and she called him. He circled in the sky and came down, landing beside her. They eventually flew off together as before. After that, Mr Duck came constantly alone, seemingly looking for his mate and only eating a little. He seemed very distressed and was constantly quacking. It was our strong impression that the separation for nesting was a necessity caused by circumstances of which they were very unwilling victims rather than that they lost interest in each other.

In about the middle of June we began to notice that duck-food had been eaten and the water tray had been used during the night. We suspected that Mrs Duck might be making nocturnal visits. I decided to try waking up very early in the morning to see if I could catch her at it. Sure enough, I discovered that not just she but both ducks came together between three and four in the morning, as if they were having a secret meeting, then flying off in different directions. A week later, Mrs Duck started to come alone at the same time in the morning, apparently quacking for her mate. After this we had occasional visits during the daytime from Mrs Duck, but we saw her for the last time on the 10th July.

We don't know where they go for the rest of the year.

If you like our ducks, please think of those that are less fortunate and are reared under cruel conditions for their meat. You can read about the duck industry at the Viva website