Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shelduck Ducklings

Shelducks nest in holes, either disused rabbit holes or holes they excavate themselves. The holes may be near the shore or half way up a mountain, generally well hidden under bramble or gorse. About this time of the year the ducklings hatch and the mother duck brings them to the shore, often pellmell down a small mountain stream, often at night, until they get to the shore. Unfortunately the path to the shore is often obstructed by new housing developments, roads, piped streams, weirs etc and as a result the ducklings often get stuck and separated from their parent. If this happens with shelduck ducklings, the first thing is to try to get the ducklings back to mother, and try to get them down to the shore. However if mother is gone, collect ducklings and bring them to the nearest part of the shore where shelducks gather and where there is wet mud and cover, and leave them. The ducklings will call and call and if mother gets within 100 yards or them she will come to the call. Shelducks are also known to adopt orphaned ducklings, indeed in late summer most of the adult birds leave their young to moult their flight feathers. During this month long phase in the shelduck lifecycle, the young birds are taken care of by "aunts" in huge nurseries of up to 100 ducklings.

Weir at Jenkinstown

Many shelducks nest in the Cooley mountains near Rockmarshal and elsewhere. Yesterday Owen McCann called about lost ducklings in the Jenkinstown area - they had become trapped in the same weir as last year and mother had departed over the fields with four of her11 ducklings in toe, and a dozen crows and magpies swooping. Anyway to cut a long story short we rescued the ducklings with a net and brought them down to the shore at Rockmarshal and left them by the shore inside an old pipe that was lying around. Checking back a couple of hours later I was pleased to see that they had been indeed recovered by what I assume to be their parents. I imagine that the crows got the four who had the sense to avoid the weir. Shelducks like other ducks are prolific, producing up to 15 ducklings a year. It is part of shelduck ecology that the vast majority of these do not make it to adulthood (otherwise we would be up to our necks in ducks!) but where they get stuck as a result of human activity, it is worth attempting a rescue.

Ducklings reunited with parents

Shelduck ducklings are black and white with grey legs, quite unlike the brown and yellow mallard ducklings.

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