April Emergency

Upsetting Day

Mallard Duck Jemima leaving her nest for the last time

Jemima leaving her nest for the last time

Sometimes there are good days, sometimes there are bad ones. Jemima happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on this particular day.

She went off for her usual 'break' at 5:45pm, returning in the evening with a drake pestering her. He would not leave her alone and she was unable to get to her nest by dusk.

Mallard Duck Jemima meets the mouse

Jemima meets the mouse

The last we saw of her, she was sitting at one end of a neighbour's roof, with the drake at the other, both seeming to be playing a waiting game after having grown tired of running around the garden playing hide and seek.

Night came and she was not on her nest but still on the roof. She eventually finally crept back to her nest at 11:28pm, possibly after having been back to her waterside haunt to escape the drake. She had a last friendly visitor at 2:50am, a little brown mouse. It was the first time we had seen the mouse with her. Perhaps it had come to bid her a final farewell and good luck. A few hours later, at 4:22am, she had a very unwelcome visitor, a fox, who killed her on her nest.

Mr Fox

A fox had not been in our garden for a while. We are surrounded by high walls and 6-foot fencing. A few years ago, he had got in through the neighbours gate that had been left open. Part of the fence between the two properties is open and remains like that. If the fox got into this neighbours garden he could jump through the gap and into ours.

Mallard Duck Fatal encounter

Fatal encounter

On this occasion the gates were closed, and we did not know how he had gained entry but he returned several times over the next few days. He also made a surprise visit last February but again, we didn't know how he got in.

We do have several hedgehog highways, but apart from hedgehogs they only seemed large enough for the local cats to squeeze through. After Jemima's demise, using some trail cameras, we found he was jumping onto a wall that runs alongside a road, on the neighbour's garden side, and squeezing through a gap (actually smaller than the hedgehog holes in width, but 2 or 3 feet in height) where a low wall with a fence behind it changes to a 6-foot fence.

Mallard Duck Leaving the scene of the crime

Leaving the scene of the crime

On that fateful night, once in the gardens, Mr Fox had nowhere to get out and seems to have spent his time trying to find another way out to get back to his den, vixen, and three newborn cubs, which was in a garden under a shed, two houses down the road from our us.

As the fox scrambled up the branches of the bush, Jemima was sitting on her nest warily looking on to where she normally exits her nest. The fox poked his head in the gap she used to get out and looked round. Jemima, panicking, tried to escape sideways, directly through the hedge she was hiding in. As she scrambled to escape through the tight knit branches of the hedge the fox lunged, and bit her in her side.

Jemima was just unlucky that the fox picked that part of the part of the wall where her nest was to try and get out. The laurel bush in front of the wall that partially hid the nest was something he could climb. I don't think he killed her for food, more likely just a reflex reaction when he came across her.

We don't know if the attack itself, or the shock of being bitten, killed Jemima. The fox stayed for about 5 minutes, I think trying to get through the wooden fencing that was on the wall in the hedge, to a neighbour's garden. He gave up and went back the way he came leaving Jemima dead on her nest. Whether the she crawled back on to her nest while the fox was there and died or if the fox dropped her on it I don't know. The result was the same, Jemima was keeping her nest and eggs warm with slowly fading body heat.

After wandering round the garden a while Mr Fox left through the gap in the wall / fence he entered by in the neighbour's garden.

Panic Stations

It had normally been a cheering moment when I woke up each morning and looked on my phone to see Jemima on her nest. The previous night, when we went to bed, she had still not returned after her drake encounters. Looking at the live picture, I was initially elated that she was on her nest and had returned, but then I realised something was not right. Though on her nest, her neck was lying backwards and to one side.

Quickly checking the stored pictures (you have to say technology is something else these days) I saw her return, settle down, meet the mouse and then Mr Fox's entrance and her demise.

We had a cup of tea and talked about what to do. We thought that the fox had probably made a nice meal of Jemima and her eggs while he was there and we were not looking forward to looking at the nest in person.

Out came the ladders and it was with some trepidation that I put them against the wall and hedge where Jemima lay. She looked quick peaceful on her nest. Carefully extracting her from the hedge we were surprised to find that she only had a small wound to her side where the fox had bitten her, there was not even a lot of blood. Even more surprising was there was no evidence of any broken egg shells under her or on the wall. Her eggs were still intact under her in the nest.

It looked like she had died of shock rather than the wound, and the fox not really disturbed anything at all.

Mallard Duck eggs in nest

Jemima's eggs in the nest

We had a very quick discussion on the next step, recalling people had hatched duck eggs before, and a couple of years ago we had successfully raised and released a Dunnock chick that we found lying, almost dead and abandoned, on our garden path (we think a Magpie or Crow had taken it from its nest and dropped it).

The chances of success were not very high we thought, as Jemima had spent several quite long periods away from the nest, including the coldest April night on record, and the previous day she had spent 7 hours off her nest. She had been dead for 4 hours at this point. We had grown attached to Jemima and thought we owed it to her to try and see if we could finish her work for her and hatch and release her ducklings. It was not as though we had many other plans - we were still in the UK's second COVID lockdown and confined to the house and garden.

We had found a box to put Jemima in to bury her in our garden. Quickly we got a further small box and delved into the down that made up most of her nest. A couple of eggs were visible on the top of the nest, which seemed to have grown quite high from the top of the wall amongst the ivy and laurel. Carefully removing them, more eggs revealed themselves hidden in the down and leaves. We uncovered more eggs and even more eggs appeared as we went further down. Eventually we found 14 eggs! It didn't seem possible that the nest could have contained so many, and that she could have been sitting on them all in the small space on top of the wall.

Mallard Duck Jemima's Virtual Gravestone

Jemima's Virtual Gravestone

Mallard Duck jemima grave

Jemima's resting place

Taking as much down from the nest as possible and, putting it into the box around the eggs, we decamped back into the house and covered the box with towels to try and keep them warm on the heated floor of our Garden room while we made some hurried plans.

We laid Jemima to rest in the garden under the blackberry bush that was the little graveyard of all the children's pets and animal casualties over the years, hopefully she would be looking down to see how we would continue her work.