8 - 9 weeks old

Mallard Duck Another hard morning gone 1:09pm 21st June 2021

Another hard morning gone 1:09pm 21st June 2021

Mallard Duck White bands of a hen 1:30pm 21st June 2021

White bands of a hen 1:30pm 21st June 2021

Flying practice

Getting their freedom seemed to relax the ducks. They spent more and more time resting during the day and looking for the shadier parts of the garden.

While not sleeping the ducks did more and more flapping to strengthen their wing muscles. With the lengthening of their wing feathers and more vigorous beating they started getting onto their 'tip toes' more. For their practice they started to seek higher ground, the tops of rockeries and walls. As they ran from one place to another they began flapping their wings and took off occasionally.

They loved to use the pond wall and rockery as a jump off point.

As the days passed the small 1 metre 'hop' began 3 or 4 metre flights until they could fly from the rockery to the patio, or from pond to pond.

Their hunts food led them round and round the garden, even jumping onto top of low bushes to get at the buds, flowers and berries.

Mallard Duck Duck on a bush 2:52pm 22nd June 2021

Duck on a bush 2:52pm 22nd June 2021

Mallard Duck Getting down to duck level 3:13pm 23rd June 2021

Getting down to duck level 3:13pm 23rd June 2021

But they really did enjoy their rest, but it didn't stop them spending downtime with us. Unfortunately for the fish the ducks 'mad five minutes' was getting more energetic and frantic with every session and must have been terrifying for the fish.

The pigeons continued to compete with the ducks for their food and became more audacious and confident in entering the enclosure to get at it. In the end we resorted to putting the food in the darkened compartment of the enclosure with the fringing kept open by the wooden rain cover. The pigeons still got themselves in their when they plucked up the courage. The ducks still chased them off given the opportunity.

This 8th week was one the most exciting of their time with us. This was the time they started to leave our garden! Within a couple of days of their first night out the first one flew out of the garden (only to return by waddle power!)

Flying time

Mallard Duck Is is safe to get down? 8:23pm 30th June 2021

Is is safe to get down? 8:23pm 30th June 2021

Because the ducks were 'free' in the garden they were very early risers and were usually up and about at between 4 and 5 am each day. I have to say I was very nervous of them wandering around on their own (not actually sure why now) and would find myself waking up and getting up to join them form very early morning strolls and exercise in the garden.

One of the ducks first morning tasks was to wonder (or fly) from the large pond where they spent the night to the small pond. Each night we opened the hedgehog highway holes up, and though I suppose the ducks were slightly big to get through I am sure they would have got their bills and necks through. Given their propensity for adventure I am sure where they can get their head through they will try and get the rest of themselves through curiosity, so we closed them off during the day. We also 'dropped the net' each night that stopped the ducks crawling through under the fence and trapping themselves between the chicken wire/ hedge on the other side and the fence. I was anxious that, if I got up later, I would find a duck trapped halfway through a hedgehog hole or between the hedge and the fence.

Mornings seemed to be their favourite time for flying, though they still flew in the afternoons and evening but to a much lesser extent.

Each morning we would try to encourage them to fly by running from the large pond to the patio or vice versa. It was quite comical to watch us running around the garden, the ducks would scurry along after us, some just waddling, others would take the hint and flap their wings.

Sometimes it was just running and flapping wings, but more frequently they would 'lift off' and eventually get a couple of meters in the air and travel the entire length of the garden to land on the patio.

Mallard Duck Looking like flying 9:50am 28th June 2021

Looking like flying 9:50am 28th June 2021

You could sometimes tell when an effort to fly was imminent, they would stand very upright with their neck extended. If we were lucky, after a quick look left and right, they would beat their wings and be off! Usually this was when they perched on the pond wall or rockery.

The 23rd June 2021 is a day we will always remember. It was the day one first flew out of the garden, just over eight weeks after hatching.

We caught it on video and was quite a heart wrenching moment. Normally when they flew towards us, after a few beats in the air they would back flap and come to a rest of the patio. On this occasion as soon as this duck took off you could see her head was up and looking to the sky and was not going to stop! Up and over the fence she went and into our neighbour's garden. Luckily this was the garden we have access to through our own, we quickly shot through to find her wondering purposely round their garden looking to try and get back home. She didn't seem interested in trying out her flying skills and rather than try and pick her up we just shepparded her back into our own garden (the 'Long waddle home' we called it).

Mallard Duck Spreading onto the walls 3:50pm 25th June 2021

Spreading onto the walls 3:50pm 25th June 2021

The following day four of them decided to fly to the same garden from the large pond wall and rockery. While we rushed round to see how they were doing, one decided to fly back under its own steam and we had to 'sheppard' the remaining three back.

We did go round to the neighbours on all sides to warn them they may have some unexpected garden visitors and to let us know if that was the case.

The 25th June 2021 was the start of the end. An occasion we once again caught on film. This time while encouraging them to fly to the pond from the patio four of them took off and flew past our heads, two going south over the gardens there, and two peeled off to the left and flew round to the north over the main road and houses. Though we were expecting it was a both a sad and exhilarating moment when you could see them fly so far they may never come back.

We were not quite right in the having those thoughts. Within a few minutes, one of those that had headed south flapped back to land next to Wendy on the patio! (or one who had flown north had come round in a big circle).

I did walk round the surrounding streets looking for stray ducks in case they had come down in the road. I did not see anything the first time I went out but after a short time I did go back out for another look.

Across the main road from our front door I came across a quite astonishing sight! The lady of one of the houses has a cleaner visit her house. Today this lady was just leaving the house and looked down to see a duck at her feet! I came across them both at this moment. I owned up to her and said that the duck had just flown from my garden (and gave a short precis of the duck's story), the duck quite happily waddled around our feet on the road during this time. The lady commented that she knew the duck must be used to people as it had boldly just come up to her.

Mallard Duck Truly wonderful 6:32am 1st July 2021

Truly wonderful 6:32am 1st July 2021

I tried leading the duck across the road back to the front of the house, with the lady watching out for passing traffic, we got across the road but our front garden gate was locked (I had come out of the back garden gate on an adjacent street) and rather than try and walk her round the lady asked why I didn't pick the duck up and carry it. We had very rarely picked the ducks up, but this did seem a time to do so. The duck was happy to be near us and shepparded about, boldly on a zig zag course, but not so happy as I got up close to her. I asked the lady if she had a cloth, and she rushed over to her car and got a cleaning cloth she hadn't used. I throw this over the duck's head and gathered her up. The lady, duck and I then walked round the corner chatting till we got back into our garden. After some words of thanks she departed and the duck joined his remaining companions. Two had flown for good and two had returned.

The morning of the 26th June saw another two ducks fly off into the world at around 5 am. A third one followed them before 10am (we never saw that one go). The remaining eight ducks spent the rest of the day wondering from pond to pond and resting in and around the garden.

Mallard Duck 'You need to find your own pond' 9:21am 1st July 2021

'You need to find your own pond' 9:21am 1st July 2021

The remaining ducks stayed together till the afternoon of the 27th June. Three birds decided this was the time to spread their wings and fly south. Initially we did not know how far they had gone. A short time later I had gone upstairs and was looking out of the bedroom window over the garden when, from the neighbour's garden two doors down to the south (where the fox that killed the ducks' mother had been living earlier in the year), two ducks came soaring up, necks stretching out and wings beating lazily, back over our garden and garage to disappear to the north. They never looked down at the garden or their siblings. A short time later I got a phone call from the neighbour at the bottom of the garden, who had been bringing her granddaughter to look at the ducks, to say her neighbour on the other side (where the ducks had been) had noticed them and was worried they were trapped in her garden, particularly as she had the foxes earlier. I did make a visit and scouted round the garden to see if the third duck was still there, but didn't find anything, the lady was quite happy for me to return if any more of the brood decided to land her garden.

Our 5 remaining guests were a bit more reluctant to leave and they stayed with us for a further 3 days. By this time I think only Baby was the only one who I had not seen make a short flight in the garden, the others either didn't feel like leaving or were happy to stay with the remaining family. We thought Donald was one of the other remaining ducks, though at this stage it was very hard to tell them apart, apart from Baby. You could only really tell if the were hens or drakes (from their bill colour).

Mallard Duck 'Where are all my friends?' 8:31pm 2nd July 2021

'Where are all my friends?' 8:31pm 2nd July 2021

Mallard Duck The one that got away (or in!) 9:19am 28th June 2021

The one that got away (or in!) 9:19am 28th June 2021

On the 29th June we had our visit inside the house by flying ducks to see the England v Germany Euros football match during extra time.

One of the ducks decided it had had enough of our hospitality on the morning of the 30th June. After they had stirred themselves at 5 am from the main pond the 5 went (I think most flew) to the small pond but only 4 arrived. The 5th had carried on over the pond and hedge and off into the distance. I did have a look up and down the nearby streets but they were duck less.

The following day one decided to fly over the wall into the neighbours at the bottom of the garden, I went round to see if she was all right and found that he had tried to fly back but only got half way and was standing on water butt looking puzzled wondering how she could make it up and over the remaining part of the fence to our garden. After throwing a towel over her I caught her and after a quick chat with the neighbour we returned to her four duck friends.

By this time we had stopped fencing off parts of the garden from the ducks, only keeping them from going behind the sheds, as they could easily fly/hop over the fences anyway by now.

Flying into neighbours' gardens was not their only occupation in this time. We have a raised vegetable patch that until now had been beyond the duck's reach. This week with their enhanced flight abilities they decided it was a good place to explore for new sources of garden treats. We did have to escort them off it before they left us for good.

Mallard Duck Lonesome Baby on the pond 10:27pm 2nd July 2021

Lonesome Baby on the pond 10:27pm 2nd July 2021

The morning of the 2nd July brought us the sight of a lonely Baby all by himself in the small pond. His 3 last friends had flown with the coming of dawn. I walked the nearby streets again at around 6 am but they were nowhere to be seen and we couldn't hear them in any of the neighbours' gardens.

Baby spent the rest of the day wandering around the garden, and between the ponds, looking lost and alone. Though he would still duck and dive in the water and exercise his wings he still cast a forlorn figure in the garden and we kept him company as much as we could. He went to sleep all alone on the pond that night.

Mallard Duck First sight of the new pond 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

First sight of the new pond 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

Mallard Duck Not looking very sure 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

Not looking very sure 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

The Last Goodbye

The next day, 3rd June he was still looking pretty lonesome and we debated what to do with him. His flight feathers were almost there and he was vigorously exercising them but he was casting a solitary figure now. Ducks are very social creatures and are not really made to be alone.

We decided that it would be best to capture him and release him at a local nature reserve where he would have the company of other Mallards and that people regularly left food for the ducks. It was where we had released his mother, Jemima, the previous year with a brood of ducklings.

It was late afternoon when we decided this and thought the sooner we did this the better really as Baby was starting to look a little desolate all on his own. We borrowed a cat carrying case from a friend and lined it with towels. We couldn't persuade Baby to get in by himself and had to throw a towel over him to capture him and place him in the carry case. 10 mins later we were at the pond, in a little glen by the water side ready to release him.

Mallard Duck Tentative step forward 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

Tentative step forward 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

Mallard Duck Not sure I want to be here 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

Not sure I want to be here 5:37pm 3rd July 2021

When we had released his mother the previous year she had shot out the carrier like a bolt of lightening when we had opened its door. We thought Baby would do the same. However, this was not the case. When the door was opened he cautiously poked his head out and looked out, eventually he took a couple of tentative steps and was stretching and straining his neck around looking cautiously around himself and the open body of water in front of him.

Rather than run away from us he was timid and stayed quite close to use. We led him to the waters edge, and he wouldn't go in, he led him along the water's edge and he still wouldn't go for a swim. Eventually we walked round to the next little bay, with Baby walking with us on the path, to where other Mallards, both young and old, were gathered - as well as a family of swans!

He still did not really leave our side and looked at the other ducks cautiously. Eventually he did enter the water where there were some other young mallards. They all nibbled the weed together for a few minutes, had a short squabble (that Baby won) and happily nibbled away again. We started to withdraw and leave Baby with his new friends but he jumped out the water to join us.

Mallard Duck Don't really want to go 5:59pm 3rd July 2021

Don't really want to go 5:59pm 3rd July 2021

Mallard Duck 'Come and join your new friends' 6:07pm 3rd July 2021

'Come and join your new friends' 6:07pm 3rd July 2021/p>

While we scratched our heads on the next step Baby decided to wander round a corner on the path that runs round the pond. There was a sudden commotion and Baby darted back round and jumped into the pond making a big 'splash'. A dog came chasing after him from along the path. At least he could move fast if the need arose.

We stayed with him for a bit longer as he went in and out the water with his new friends, after about 15 minutes, we said our goodbyes and slopped off round the corner to leave him with the other pond residents.

We did return the next day but could not see Baby in amongst all the mallards and other ducks that came to feed on the food we brought. If he was there elsewhere on the pond or resting in the undergrowth we don't know. There was another duck that was quite 'tame' and came upto us while we were there, whether it was one of our other 'twelve' that had flown off under its own steam remains a mystery, but we said 'hello' to it and gave it some food we had brought along.

Mallard Duck 'Bye, Bye Baby' 6:25pm 3rd July 2021

'Bye, Bye Baby' 6:25pm 3rd July 2021

We returned another few times to look at the ducks but did not see any that we could recognise.

Now, whenever we come up to any Mallards on our walks/runs down the local ponds/ rivers and canals we say 'Hallo' in the hope that one may be one of thirteen and that they are all still well.

Perhaps one day some ducks will return to our garden again. We shall see.