3 - 8 weeks old

Leaving the house

Our Ducklings were eager to leave the house as usual that morning. Little did they know that this we would the last time we would voluntarily allow them in the house again during their stay with us.

They cascaded down the seat covers we lay to help them get down to the patio and ran to the pond as usual. By this time they were allowed to roam most of the garden supervised, they were really too big to be taken by crows or magpies and cats were blocked from entering the garden through the hedgehog holes during the day. While they were this young we felt we needed to keep an eye on them in the pond and running between them as well as leading them on foraging trips round the garden. We watched them in the ponds starting to duck and dive beneath the water to get to the better bits of food still left there (The algae and weed easily accessible from the surface was rapidly disappearing) before shepherding them back to their cage to rest and recuperate before other further supervised wandering sessions throughout the day.

During that first day we kitted out their new night home in the shed, laying straw under the heat lamp, putting food and water in, all on top of the old curtains we had placed over the floor and encouraged them in to inspect it during the day - which they were eager to do once they realised there was food in there!

Evening approached and fell, and we led them, not back into the run in the house, which we had by then dismantled and re-instated as our garden room, but into the shed. At first, they were quite happy to follow us, have a nibble at the food and rummage round the cut grass and dandelions we had placed on the floor until we said 'goodnight' and shut the shed door.

Mallard Duck Settling them down 8:49pm 17th May 2021

Settling them down 8:49pm 17th May 2021

Mallard Duck Inspecting the new home 12:45pm 17th May 2021

Inspecting the new home 12:45pm 17th May 2021

They were not happy ducks and would not settle! We could see, using the cameras we had put inside, that they were pacing about in front of the shed door chirping and squeaking in an ever-increasing cacophony of noise (we didn't need to cameras to hear that!).

Eventually we gave up leaving them alone (it was like trying to leave your first-born baby for the first time to cry as it was going to sleep). We opened the door and sat down with them to settle, they immediately nestled in the straw next to us, with Baby and Donald going one further by jumping up onto me to cuddle and settle into my arms. They eventually calmed down and nestled down together in the straw and we quietly retreated from the shed and shut the door behind us. We then spend a lot of time watching them using the cameras as they once again fussed around, but not as noisily, before eventually settling down as the light faded.

The cameras we had put in there were infra-red ones and we could follow their activities in the dark. As in the house they continued to rest, feed, and preen in cycles trough out the night before grouping and settling down together for a rest before starting again through-out the night.

Wanting to get back in

After the first night in the shed we experimented with bedtimes which ended up varying between 8:30pm to 9 pm each night. It was more for our convenience and approaching darkness than the ducks. I don't think the ducks were bothered what time they went to bed if they had food and somewhere to settle down. The location itself was more of an issue for them.

Mallard Duck Underneath the barrier 5:57pm 29th May 2021

Underneath the barrier 5:57pm 29th May 2021

Mallard Duck 'Let us in!' 6:47pm 24th May 2021

'Let us in!' 6:47pm 24th May 2021

Up till the last minute the ducks flew several weeks later they would insist on trying to get back into the house garden room where they had spent their first 3 weeks. During most foraging sessions they would end up wandering in front of the closed bifold doors waiting to jump up and get back in. If we left the doors open, they would try to jump up, sometimes succeeding, to get back in, even if we were both still outside with them.

Not ones to give up for our company as they grew older, and when we let them roam unchaperoned round the garden, they would also camp outside the door on the mat till we went outside and took them for a swim and a forage rather then go exploring by themselves.

In the end, so we could keep the doors open in sunny weather, we cobbled together some Velcro onto the four corners of the double bench cushion we had, with matching Velcro strips stuck to the door frame and doors so we could attach the cushion as a 'low level' barrier across the open doorway that we could either step over or quickly move and replace as we went in or out.

This cushion barrier proved very effective till the last week of their stay - when they had learned to fly. A particularly notable occasion was the evening of the 29th June 2021. It was England v Germany, at football in the 2021 Euros, more specifically it was the 92nd minute in extra time.

Mallard Duck Ain't no moving us 9:04am 28th May 2021

Ain't no moving us 9:04am 28th May 2021

Mallard Duck Deputation to enter the house 6:29pm 27th May 2021

Deputation to enter the house 6:29pm 28th May 2021

I have to say we were avidly watching the closing minutes in the lounge, which is about 35 - 40 feet from the garden room bifold doors which we had left open with the cushion across. I was biting my nails - we (England) are renowned for pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. Suddenly, we heard a noise and looked toward the garden room - and there came a female duck flying through the house, she had flown over the cushion into the garden room, through another set of open internal French windows and the entire length of the lounge. She executed a perfect hover landing in front of the television in the final minutes of extra time to see the final whistle (England won 2-0). A male duck had followed her in but only managed to fly as far as the garden room.

They looked very sheepish as we shepherded them back out to join the rest of the crew who were hanging around on the patio, beneath the cushion barrier, trying to get in.

Rounding up time

After their first night in the shed, we opened the shed door, they came pouring out and ran to the big pond for their morning swim.

Mallard Duck Settling in by the door 8:07pm 24th May 2021

Settling in by the door 8:07pm 24th May 2021

Getting them back into the shed at night became an ever-increasing chore as they became more independent.

Each evening we would take them for a final forage and try and lead them back into the shed, or if they were resting (usually by the big pond on the rockery) we would use the cushions to guide them towards the shed and their night-time residence.

At first they were reluctant but went in and when we closed the doors after a short fuss they settled down. However, as the days and weeks progressed it became more like trying to herd a bunch of thirteen cats. The soft cushions proved very useful, particularly the double one. At one stage we ended up closing one door and introducing a 'trap' system with cushions and bits of wood to get them in. To get them to the trap we erecting a funnel using some of the pieces of chicken wire that we had taken down elsewhere in the garden. We only used this a couple of times, generally with the two of us we led/ herded most of them in through the double shed doors over cushion ramps to a treat of fresh cut clover/ dandelions/ duck food and water. Rapidly shutting one door one of us would then manage to herd the few errant escapees as the other guarded the portal.

Mallard Duck To big to cuddle together 11:29pm 6th June 2021

To big to cuddle together 11:29pm 6th June 2021

I was once caught out alone trying to round them up in the evening, I think lockdown was loosening and Wendy was late back after a Community Centre meeting. It was hell! I managed to get nine ducks in the shed on the first 'pass'. Four refused the invitation and any efforts I made to make them 'follow me' towards the shed failed dismally (so much for imprinting).

One by one I managed to cajole three of the ducks into the shed, twice more escaped as I put one in. I was not a happy duck keeper. In the end Wendy returned to find me very frustrated and agitated running round trying to gather the last one, which I managed to corral against a wall using the double cushion and then gently lifted him out and across to his fellow prisoners in the shed.

As the weeks passed their evening gathering avoidance tactics became more and more persistent, and sometimes a bit distressing - for us anyway!

When we eventually decided they were big enough and wise enough to spend the night outside in the garden I think we were all very relieved.

Developing new routines

Because they had moved outside to the shed did not mean our cleaning routines had stopped, nor to changing the design of their outside cage / enclosure and their own routines.

Mallard Duck Guarding the frontier 12:53am 22nd May 2021

Guarding the frontier 12:53am 22nd May 2021

At night after being shut in, they fell into their usual pattern of feed, drink, run round, preen, and settle. Within a couple of nights, they gave up settling on the straw under the heat lamp and invariably choose to settle as a group in a corner by one of the sheds two doors and we removed the heat lamp. They seemed to repeat the 'get up and feed episodes' during the night but were always rearing to get out in the morning. As the weeks moved on they did seem to eat and move less at night and spent more time camped around the doors ready for a sharp exit the next day.

Mallard Duck Just me and you 12:39pm 24th May 2021

Just me and you 12:39pm 24th May 2021

After they were shut up for the night we opened some of the remaining chicken wire fences to allow the hedgehogs into the garden at night. By this time we had opened up most of the garden area to the ducks, only restricted them from the shed areas, behind the small pond, and compost bin parts of the garden that had places where they could get their bills into, and then themselves, to get trapped in. We later relaxed further areas to let them run round behind the small pond after they insisted on mass to explore these areas though the temporary barriers we had there to keep them away from the outside fence. This had a six-inch gap on the bottom but had chicken wire behind it against a hawthorn/ privet hedge. The hedgehogs would run up and down here and under the gap. We used the pond netting we had taken down to cover the gap, taking it down in the evening to let the hedgehogs through.

In the morning we moved the fences back into place and blocked up the hedgehog holes to the road and our neighbours, the ducks could hear this and would become increasing noisy before we opened the doors for them.

As the evening drew out they spent more and more time sunning themselves on the rockery and pond walls.

Mallard Duck Feeling disembodied 2:18pm 1st June 2021

Feeling disembodied 2:18pm 1st June 2021

Mallard Duck I'm just so cute! 4:40pm 10th June 2021

I'm just so cute! 4:40pm 10th June 2021

Getting lost

One event, the same day we gave them the unsupervised run of garden during the day, showed how important making sure all the holes were bunged up was. We had come back inside after taking them for a forage and walk. It was raining, but rather then stay in their enclosure / run, or go into their dry shed, they decided to park themselves outside the bifold windows, looking inside looking all mournful, trapsing up and down wanting to get in.

I was sitting in a chair looking out over the garden, pretending to ignore them, but secretly keeping an eye on them - it was their first day 'on the loose'. Without counting them individually it was almost impossible to know who was there and who was not. At this stage we could still only really tell two of them from the rest - Donald (the biggest) and Baby (the smallest).

Baby had recovered from his wry neck but was still well behind in development. This did not stop him being the most adventurous duck of them all, whether through his nature, or because he was bullied I don't know. He always seemed to be the one leading the charges everywhere and the first to decide to go off in another direction or area to explore.

On this wet day of their extra freedom my eyes kept flicking over my paper to cast over them, there was Donald, Baby, and a lot of ducks, next time there was Donald and a lot of Ducks. Shortly afterwards I looked surreptitiously over my paper and could still only see Donald and a lot of ducks - no Baby! I was suddenly worried. Had we let them loose on their own too early and Baby was lost or snatched by an enormous cat or Golden Eagle swooping into the garden? Shouting for Wendy ('We've lost Baby!'), I counted the ducks - there were only 12. Baby had disappeared.

With a sinking feeling I searched round the garden in all the places he could have hidden. No joy, feeling quite disheartened I went back to count the ducks congregating outside the bifold doors again in the rain - still only 12. Then I thought I heard something, a pathetic 'quack, quack' from next door. We have a private way in to this garden, and I rushed in to find Baby standing outside their backdoor looking very sheepish and bedraggled. After gathering him up, and giving him a cuddle, we returned to our garden and his partners in crime.

Looking how he could have got in I found that there was a small gap I had left when I had covered a hedgehog highway hole that went behind next doors garage and into their garden. He had squeezed through and been wandering round their garden before getting bored and deciding it was time to make a noise and re-join his mates. He was a very adventurous and naughty soul!

We learnt a very salutary lesson that day on making sure the hedgehog holes were blocked off properly.

Mallard Duck Sitting in the shower 4:55pm 31st May 2021

Sitting in the shower 4:55pm 31st May 2021

Mallard Duck Rising out the depths 2:18pm 1st June 2021

Rising out the depths 2:18pm 1st June 2021

Mallard Duck 'I'm Quacking in the shower!' 4:18pm 2nd June 2021

'I'm Quacking in the shower!' 4:18pm 2nd June 2021

Mallard Duck Snoozing in the sun 2:17pm 8th June 2021

Snoozing in the sun 2:17pm 8th June 2021

Morning Rush Hour

When we opened the shed door each morning the ducks had only one thought in mind. They piled out and rushed for the large pond, usually running round to the shallow end to jump in, sometimes jumping up and over the rockery and round the pond walls as they grew older. Occasionally some of them were that excited they ran right round the pond, missing the shallow end, and back round to the rockery side, or even back round in a big circle to the shallow end to get a swim.

As the weeks passed, and after having a swim, this was the time we had some early flapping and 'launch' sessions. In their final week it was also when they were most likely to fly off into the great blue yonder.

Cleaning down

Cleaning up did not stop with the move outside, they were still birds and as they grew they just made more 'mess' in the shed during the night.

Mallard Duck Digging in the mud 2:54pm 24th May 2021

Digging in the mud 2:54pm 24th May 2021

The straw we had laid down for them was usually thrown into garden waste recycling bin unless it was quite clean, when we then put it down in their outside enclosure along with any remaining duck food.

After moving the water container back out into the enclosure, we would strip the shed of its contents and clean them down in the garden. The dirty straw went into the garden recycling bin, and the sheets then went over the washing line in the garden. We then used the hose to clean the sheets and other items down. The food and large water trays were cleaned down and they were all left to dry.

Mallard Duck Going for the bedraggled look 1:50pm 16th May 2021

Going for the bedraggled look 1:50pm 16th May 2021

We could then easily brush the shed out and wash the inside down with water from the hose. At some point during the day when things had dried, we laid fresh sheets and straw ready for the evening.

The outside enclosure was very easy to deal with once they were in bed. The water container and remaining food went with them to bed. The netting came down and the cage and the 'extension' were moved down the garden to the next patch, straw was consigned to the garden recycling bin and paint trays for bathing were hosed down till the morning.

Ducks are very messy! We soon learned that with the time they spent on the patio resting or trying to cajole us to let them in the house or come and play with them the patio was quickly very dirty each day. It became a daily task, sometimes twice daily if some of our 'bubble' came around to visit, to wash the patio down with a water spray. The ducks thought this was fantastic. They seemed to love it for at least three reasons, first because it caused muddy pools at the edge of the patio into which they thrust their beaks and delved for anything they could eat. Secondly, they would eagerly chase their own 'mess' as the spray moved it around and off the patio - not sure if it could be described as a tasty morsel. Thirdly, they loved to get into the spray, it seemed a little game to them to chase in and out the spray and stick their open bills into the spray stream to get a drink - or perhaps their mess did not taste nice and they needed a drink!

Mallard Duck Primary flight feathers growing nicely 2:59pm 4th June 2021

Primary flight feathers growing nicely 2:59pm 4th June 2021

Mallard Duck Speculum update 6:14pm 19th June 2021

Speculum update 6:14pm 19th June 2021


One of the most interesting things in this experience was watching how, as the ducklings grew, their feathers developed, with changes almost daily. From the down they were born with to their final flight feathers. Which areas developed first and by how much was especially fascinating. I tried to take a pictorial record using Donald, sometimes it was a bit difficult as you couldn't really ask him to pose and towards the end, they were all at the same size and stage of development (except Baby!). There is a separate web page devoted to this aspect.

By the 4th week they all looked mostly like ducks, even Baby, albeit female ducks with no blue speculums. They were starting to develop the white /black bands on their wings but still had bits of down on their backs. This period was also perhaps the greatest for their behavioural changes, in hunting and resting behaviour as well as independence to name a few.

Though we were both biologists (our degrees are many years old and more focused on genetic engineering and microbiology) we really did not know anything about bird development and how feathers grew. The growth of their wing feathers was fascinating. We started to see tiny blue sheaths (pin feathers) appear on their little arms. They seemed to have downy feathers growing out on top like little tufts. The birds seemed to either pull the tufts off in preening or dropped off as the adult feathers grew magically out of the pin feathers as they extended in length as time went on. You could see the same effect on the chest, as feathers they like shaggy bits that then disappeared leaving new brown shiny feathers.

Mallard Duck A little Angel! 5:39pm 14th June 2021

A little Angel! 5:39pm 14th June 2021

Mallard Duck Full display now 5:48pm 14th June 2021

Full display now 5:48pm 14th June 2021

There are other websites dealing in duck and wing anatomy and physiology in a lot more detail if that's what takes your interest (just google 'mallard duck wing anatomy and physiology' and trawl through the output).

As time passed, we watched as the ducklings shed their downy coat, developing wonderful chests and bottoms with white and brown feathers. Their bills started to change colour to either a greenish or orange tinge. Their wing feathers started as pin feathers and nestled within their new brown flank feathers. Then black and white bands and shimmering blue speculums started to develop on their wings, and underwing feathers started to develop.

With the passing of each week, they also spent more and more time exercising and flapping their wings, punctuated with little hops and jumps as time went on.

Mallard Duck Standing straight 4:18pm 18th May 2021

Standing straight 4:18pm 18th May 2021

Mallard Duck All coming together 4:53pm 29th May 2021

All coming together 4:53pm 29th May 2021

Mallard Duck Looking like a proper duck! 5:35pm 5th June 2021

Looking like a proper duck! 5:35pm 5th June 2021

Mallard Duck Daily Duck picture 6:13pm 19th June 2021

Daily Duck picture 6:13pm 19th June 2021

Adapting their home

This period saw a few changes to the ducks outside cage and enclosure.

Mallard Duck Resting in the enclosure 12:23pm 22nd May 2021

Resting in the enclosure 12:23pm 22nd May 2021

Mallard Duck Enclosure with no net 2:02pm 8th June 2021

Enclosure with no net 2:02pm 8th June 2021

As time passed, we let them roam and the enclosure became more of a feeding station, though they would sometimes sit on the straw in the enclosure they gradually moved out to spend more rest time on the rockery, pond walls, or the grass by the small pond.

As they grew, one of the first changes we made was the addition of more water troughs for them to drink from - but they also used them to sit in and bath, which was very funny to see.

We added shelters from the rain and sun, first one little grey 'step', then two, then a bit of wood from the hoard with legs from some old banister spindles that I had rescued after giving them to my son to burn on his log burner.

During week 6 we stopped putting the metal sides bars and net on the enclosure, though then the pigeons gained enough courage to enter and eat the free food. Whether ducks are very protective, or just naturally against other feeders (poor pigeons, blackbirds, and sparrows), they chased the pigeons off when they could be bothered.

Mallard Duck Outside enclosure set up 6:14pm 19th June 2021

Outside enclosure set up 6:14pm 19th June 2021

Keeping the pond alive

At the start of the duck occupation the pond was quite a little haven for the birds and fish in our garden, the fish swan happily around with lots of lovely green and healthy plants around them.

Mallard Duck Fountain with Baby looking small amoungst his siblings 3:11pm 3rd June 2021

Fountain with Baby looking small amoungst his siblings 3:11pm 3rd June 2021

The ducks started to change that. At first, as little ducklings, they swam nicely on the pond surface, nibbling on the duck weed. As they grew, they started sampling the insects and the other greenery in and around the pond. They also, like all other birds, do their 'business' after eating.

The pond could only manage to process so much organic matter, and with the ducks and the forty plus fish there was too much as they all added their load.

The pond water in the large pond soon started to turn green. To counter this we installed a second, more powerful, pump to feed its waterfall and converted the existing pump into a fountain to try and get a bit more air into the water. This worked for a few weeks but by the 5th week the fish started to look like they were gasping for breath at the surface and the smaller ones started to become easy prey for the ducks.

We tried moving the fish into the smaller pond, but this didn't work. Because of its small size the fish only became an easier target for the ducks and after a few casualties we moved them back.

Mallard Duck Ducks enjoying the new aerator setup 3:32pm 15th June 2021

Ducks enjoying the new aerator setup 3:32pm 15th June 2021

Mallard Duck I'm still watching you 2:39pm 15th June 2021

I'm still watching you 2:39pm 15th June 2021

To try and help further, in week 6, we added a new gadget - a pump for inflating air beds. I rigged it up to blow air through a pipe into a fountain nozzle weighted down with a stone several inches down in the pond. It wouldn't work at any lower depth as the water pressure stopped the pump from functioning. The noise from the inflator was extremely loud, as any camper would tell you, so we only switched it on during the day and then only with the pump shrouded in blankets and under a plastic box. We had to be careful it did not overheat the pump or stop air reaching the inflator. Sadly, one inflator did overheat and stop working, though the good old Amazon driver soon quickly supplied another. It seemed to work, and to top it all, the ducks loved sticking their heads down into the foaming water.

The ducks were very ravenous from the start. At first, they were happy nibbling the duckweed and algae in the pond, but as they grew, they soon started on the plants in and around the ponds. By week 10 the poor ponds had been seemingly stripped of all their vegetation and insect life. Though we didn't mind the algae going, the ponds did seem quite forlorn at the end of the ducks stay.

A few months after the ducks left the ponds seemed to have recovered somewhat, though whether all the insects and plant species are still there I don't know, the algae and duckweed certainly is!

Mallard Duck Trooping along 3:28pm 17th June 2021

Trooping along 3:28pm 17th June 2021

Fun and games

It was a lot of fun having the ducks around, watching them develop and observe their antics as they explored the garden and ponds, learning how to eat and forage for food.

Part of the fun was watching them race to the ponds in the morning when they were let out from the enclosures, or when they decided to go from one pond to the next. How one or two would tentatively go off in a direction first, then more and more would join them in a frantic rush to see who would get there first. It was hilarious to watch and, as the weeks passed, the frantic running developed into measured waddling. In their final week, some would fly from one pond to the other, splashing down before the runners who looked on surprised probably thinking 'Why didn't I do that?'. This latter experience gave us some heart in the mouth moments as we didn't expect it and we both found ourselves grinning madly at each other when they did it.

They got up to lots of tricks, from sticking their heads in water pipes in the ponds, climbing up and down, slipping and sliding down waterfalls. They even tried to develop their mountaineering skills to get up rockeries, sometimes splashing back down noisily into the water beneath. One of their masterpieces was when we saw them start to dive underwater and begin their 'mad five minutes', which I'll get to shortly.

A lot of their games and funny moments were related to their seemingly never-ending quest for food, curious nature, or desire for company when they were resting.

Mallard Duck Splash! 10:00am 26th May 2021

Splash! 10:00am 26th May 2021

They loved water and mud and were very entertaining to watch. One day while we were watching over them frolicking in the pond, we noticed our neighbour watching the fun with her granddaughter. We waved them to both come down and watch the fun a bit closer, which they did, the granddaughter getting her first 'close to duck' experiences.

I've already mentioned their antics when cleaning down the patio. Every time a hose appeared as they grew older the ducks would decide it was play time (or another food opportunity). Whether it was to add more water to the ponds, clean patios, boards, or sheets on the line the ducks would get into the spray, sometimes turning their open bills into the water stream, or chase food or droppings as it moved by the force of the water to see what it tasted like. A lot of the time they just decided to find out where the water was pooling, and if on grass or soil would all just thrust their bills into the mud and dig away, happily filtering out some little morsels.

Mallard Duck Where there's mud there's food 10:48am 29th May 2021

Where there's mud there's food 10:48am 29th May 2021

They seemed to love it when we topped up the ponds with water. Sometimes we forgot to switch the water off and the ponds overflowed. The ducks would then gather at the overflow points and dig for victory in the resultant mud baths.

When I cleaned the pond filters out, I developed a loyal duck following. In the large pond the filter had a switch pipe that feed out onto the grass by the pond. When the pond filter needed cleaning (an almost daily task by the end of their stay), as I switched the flow and pushed down the cleaning levers on the pond filter, the ducks appeared and busily delved into the muddy outflow. The poor lawn in this area eventually just turned to mud and it took a few months to recover once the ducks had gone.

The smaller pond had a different type of filter, the pumped water just percolating down through a layer of sponge. Because of the ducks diving activities stirring up of the pond bottom this filter also got very clogged with mud. I used to take it out and hose it down on the lawn, the ducks soon learned this, and I had constant companions with bills in full digging mode as I used the hose pipe to wash the mud off the filter.

We had some funny moments as they started to exercise their wings, they seemed to sometimes seek out a bit of higher ground, whether from the top of the pond wall, rockery or the plastic box that eventually covered the inflator used to aerate the pond. Either the 'lift' from the wing beats would them unbalance them or they lost concentration, and they tumbled off the edges to the ground because of their efforts.

One our original intentions was not to get too close to the ducks so that they would not become 'used to humans'. I think we failed dismally at this, and perhaps were always going to. Ducks appear to be very sociable birds and we were at least a little bit imprinted on them. Given the chance they would always come up and snuggle up, or sit, with you. Whether this was just based on us providing the next meal, companionship or them counting us in as fellow ducks I don't know.

At first we were with them to watch and protect them, and make sure they came to no harm on our watch. As time went on through the pandemic lockdown, we too wanted to enjoy our garden in the sun as well as letting the ducks have all the fun.

Mallard Duck Pools a bit small 12:44pm 22nd May 2021

Pools a bit small 12:44pm 22nd May 2021

Mallard Duck Not sure he has the right idea 4:58am 25th May 2021

Not sure he has the right idea 4:58am 25th May 2021

As we sat down in the shade, or sun, to have our lunches and tea/ coffee breaks they would come and join us. Sometimes, to our amusement, sitting on papers and books that we were reading, on plates we had used for sandwiches or in nets we had used to clean out the ponds.

They were fascinated by socks and shoes I think. They would gather at our feet, and those of our friends, at peck at socks and pull laces (likely earthworms) as well poke their bills up trouser legs or skirts or shirts if we were laying down.

Nothing was safe from the 'Duck Inquisition', even drinks (of water!). Sometimes if you put your glass down for a minute you would likely find a duck with its head down in sampling your drink.

Ducks are also occasionally team players. They happily joined our garden activities. Every time we set to weeding they would be right there exploring where we were digging looking for likely snacks.

Mallard Duck Whats in the news today? 11:05am 27th May 2021

Whats in the news today? 11:05am 27th May 2021

Every few hours they would pester us to exercise, or more feasible, take them on a forage walk round the garden so that they could see what new things they could get their heads into to or find to eat.

Mallard Duck Little helpers getting in the way 4:46pm 16th June 2021

Little helpers getting in the way 4:46pm 16th June 2021

During lockdown in the UK the gyms were shut so we had to adapt our exercise routines (even doing our Pilates exercises via zoom!). I find I must do a lot of stretching exercises to keep away the aches and pains. I used to do them in the garden room until the ducks pushed me out for the first few weeks of their stay. When we relocated them to the shed, I thought I had my exercise space back, however when we let them roam free, they would forlornly hang around the bifold doors looking in at me while I exercised and stretched. In the end, if it wasn't raining, I would go out into the garden with mats and equipment and do my exercise with the ducks sitting round me. They seemed quite content sitting round the mats though sometimes, when doing press ups or site ups, they would wander underneath or behind me, so you had to keep a weather eye open for them. They did seem to make the time pass faster and overall were good exercise partners.

Mallard Duck Admiring my duck socks 10:35am 3rd June 2021

Admiring my duck socks 10:35am 3rd June 2021

Mallard Duck Not sure how we'd do these up 3:42pm 1st June 2021

Not sure how we'd do these up 3:42pm 1st June 2021

Mallard Duck Whose up for a ride then? 5:42pm 14th June 2021

Whose up for a ride then? 5:42pm 14th June 2021

Mallard Duck Nice socks 5:47pm 14th June 2021

Nice socks 5:47pm 14th June 2021

Mallard Duck Been netted 7:03pm 9th June 2021

Been netted 7:03pm 9th June 2021

Their curious nature sometimes got the better of them, once we lost one in the rockery that made up the waterfall in the large pond before we blocked off all the ways they could get in. Later one managed to get through a net that was stopping them get under a fence to the outside round. There was a chicken wire fence between the fence and the hedge. The hedgehogs could get round this wire fence but not cats (or ducks!). Wendy saw the duck had disappeared and was frantically trying to see where it was and if it was hurt or trapped. The duck just happily wandered up and down behind the fence between the chicken wire and the fence, got fed up and poked herself back out into the garden the same way she got in.

Bird Chasing

One of the ducks great sports was the 'let's chase all the other birds off' game. It started with our poor little sparrows (not quite as common in the UK as they used to be). We seemed to have a group that nest in one of the hedges each year and spend the spring and summer raising two or three young ones round the garden. They drank and bathed in the ponds, had dust baths in the borders and fed from feeders and bird table or from seed scattered on the ground. As the ducks grew bigger, they started to chase the sparrows away when they saw them. They then progressed to blackbirds.

Mallard Duck Chase the pidgeon 6:12pm 27th May 2021

Chase the pidgeon 6:12pm 27th May 2021

Mallard Duck The little fella spoiling for a fight 4:11pm 1st June 2021

The little fella spoiling for a fight 4:11pm 1st June 2021

I have already mentioned that one had nested in some shrubs early in the spring and had her nest robbed by Magpies. The same blackbird had made a second nest in some juniper we had growing on a trellis against the wall. After she had laid her second clutch, she would come down to feed on the bird table and seed we scattered for the birds in the garden. The ducks soon put a stop to that, every time she came down to feed one or another of them would chase her away. Eventually she gave up and abandoned her nest and made a third nest in a neighbour's garden.

The pigeons bore the brunt of the ducks' wrath. Mind you it was their own fault in a way, they kept coming down to try and get at the ducks' food if they could.

At the start of lockdown, we only had several wood pigeons and some collared doves in the garden, but as there were less and less people in the town centre the feral pigeons had little to eat and started flocking to the suburbs and raiding people's gardens for food. We started having a couple (including some lost racing pigeons with their coloured rings), and then more and more used to appear each morning to eat the seed we put on the bird table and floor. By the end of lockdown, we counted 45 feral pigeons visiting the garden each day.

The pigeons hung around the garden, picking over the areas where the duck enclosure had been the previous day for any dropped duck food. The ducks, as they grew bigger, started to chase them away, this got even worse as the pigeons started to get the courage to go into the duck enclosure to sample the duck food.

Hunter Ducks

By week 4 the ducks were about the size of pigeons. In the garden their only real realistic threats were foxes, and perhaps cats. By week 6 they were probably too big for the local cats and sparrow hawks (we have seen a buzzard flying up and down the motorway corridor nearby but never in the garden) even if they got in the garden. What we did find was that our darling little ducklings, instead of being the victims, became the terrorists and hunters in our garden.

The hunting first began with the slugs and snails, in fact they developed a little game very early with snail shells.

When one would come across a snail shell it would pick it up in its bill and run away with it, the others soon wanted to know what it had discovered and chased after it round the garden till it dropped it. Another would pick it up and the process would repeat itself till they got fed up, or we removed the shell. As they grew older, they began to swallow the shells. This gave us a few scary moments as we thought they were choking themselves. However, we found that after several seconds they coughed the shell up and discarded it - till the next duck picked it up!

From snails they literally jumped on the frog population of the garden.

One morning when they were 5 weeks old, we were chatting by the small pond when there was a sudden commotion in the pond, a duck jumped out and started running round the pond, other ducks jumping out to follow it. In the first duck's mouth was a little frog, legs splayed either side of its bill with its head sticking out the end.

There was not a lot we could do really, sad to watch but wild ducks must eat. Several times over the next few weeks we saw this happen. As they grew bigger, they were able to swallow the frogs (eventually) after several chasing round the garden being chased by their compatriots.

Mallard Duck A fishy present 1:46pm 14th June 2021

A fishy present 1:46pm 14th June 2021

Our small fish also started to suffer from duck predation. We had spent years protecting them from the local herons and had now exposed them to hunter ducks! It was not what we had expected. At first it had all seemed quite civil, watching the little ducklings swim about above the goldfish in the large pond. As the fish started to disappear from the surface to hide down in the depths, we should have guessed something was up. During the 6th week, when it appeared the fish had been driven to the surface by lack of oxygen in the water, another commotion started in the pond and out popped a duck with a small Rudd in its mouth. Like the snails and frogs the duck was pursued round the garden by its siblings till it dropped it. Another one picked up the trophy and set off on its own race followed by squabbling fellow ducks. They carried on till they were fed up, at that age they were not able to swallow the little fish (3 or 4 inches long). We lost probably 10 or 15 little Rudd like this before the ducks left, and at the end did see one swallow a fish whole. They did seem only to catch small fish, up to 4/ 5 inches long I am sure there was quite a bit of nipping and fin biting of the larger fish.

To be honest, I think if there had been any Robin, sparrow or dunnock fledglings around the garden when the ducks where here I think they would have tried them to see how tasty they were.

The daily 'Mad 5 Minutes'

One unexpected treat (for us, but not for our pond fish) was what developed to be a lunchtime 'Mad 5 Minutes' by the ducks.

What started as the odd duck diving under water a few times after they were a couple of weeks old developed into a group activity as they all started to join in. When they were small one would just disappear beneath the water with hardly any noise, to appear elsewhere in the pond. I thought at first it was just to get at the algae that was growing at a deeper depth as they had already eaten the surface stuff and that within easy reach with their head down in the water.

Mallard Duck Doing a 'Ruffle Flap'1 2:22pm 1st June 2021

Doing a 'Ruffle Flap'1 2:22pm 1st June 2021

Though the times did vary slightly, and sometimes they did do it in the smaller pond (as they grew bigger I think they just found the smaller pond too crowded for them all underwater) it was mainly an activity for the large pond, and usually around lunchtime. At first you would hear a splash and see a spray of water as one went under, then another would join it and soon all 13 were diving and surfacing in the pool, water splashing all over. Heaven knows what the poor fish were feeling. After a few minutes they would quieten down and start preening or exercising their wings. Some would 'duck' their heads in the water repeatedly as they swam, washing water on to their backs, or do what I called the 'Ruffle flap', in which they seemed to puff out their feathers, get upright in the pond and flap water into their feathers. Sometimes they turned themselves upside down doing this which was quite entertaining to watch.

Ducksi Beach

Mallard Duck Catching the rays 5:02pm 29th May 2021

Catching the rays 5:02pm 29th May 2021

Mallard Duck The grafters rest 4:55pm 5th June 2021

The grafters rest 4:55pm 5th June 2021

In the UK the spring, May and June seemed quite sunny during lockdown. The garden is south facing and can be quite a bit of a sun trap. The ducks liked to sit in the sun, and soon found that a prime spot was the rockery by the large pond. It did really seem to become their beach area.

After their swims they would congregate on the rockery to preen and rest in the sun, dozing till they were ready for the next bout of feeding and swimming.

As the weeks progressed and they grew bigger they included the pond wall as a sunbathing strip. As May moved into June and the sun got hotter, they headed for the shade, either on the pond wall, if it was in shade, or joined us under one of the trees, settling down alongside us (or on whatever we were reading!) as the temperature rose.

Towards the end of June, though they still sunned themselves on the pond wall and rockery during the day, they did more and more seek to rest in the long grass and under shrubs. I think naturally trying to find a bit more of a camouflaged retreat.

Forging followers

Mallard Duck Peep-bo! 4:42pm 11th June 2021

Peep-bo! 4:42pm 11th June 2021

Our foraging walks started as just something to do after a swim in the pond before going back into enclosure. As time progressed it was developed into leading them from one pond to the other before returning to the enclosure.

Mallard Duck Jumping Duck Flash 4:19pm 1st June 2021

Jumping Duck Flash 4:19pm 1st June 2021

We would walk slowly round the borders of the garden, and they would poke about in the undergrowth, sampling any plants and insects they came across (as well as any slugs snails and frogs!). They would peck at flowers and seeds, trying the grass, clover, and dandelions in the garden. They did seem to like the raspberries and camphor, and were not that bothered about waiting for the flowers or fruit to develop but would nibble the and pull down the buds with gay abandon.

We did start adding wheat to their diet in the last couple of weeks they where with us, they ignored it at first but soon got into the groove of eating it - and what they left behind the pigeons certainly finished!

As they became more independent, they seemed to be insistent that these foraging walks continued, even in the last days that they were with us. After having swam and rested they would pace up and down outside the bifold doors until one of us joined them and took them on a slow walk round the garden, nibbling away at all they could reach, before ending up at a pond where the swimming entertainment then began.

Relaxing with friends

Mallard Duck 'Stop playing with your mobile!' 12:37pm 18th May 2021

'Stop playing with your mobile!' 12:37pm 18th May 2021

Mallard Duck Picnic Lunch 1:44pm 1st June 2021

Picnic Lunch 1:44pm 1st June 2021

Our ducks were seemingly very friendly and affectionate birds, or at least they knew who was providing the next meal and were happy to encourage a sense of bonhomie with anyone that may be touched for a free meal. It was not just us but anyone who happened to visit the garden.

Given the chance, if you sat on the ground near the ducks, they would soon bustle up and settle down with you. Sometimes just sitting and watching the world go by or catching a quick 40 winks before the next playtime.

One thing I did notice was that they didn't really relax or sleep on the water until about the 5th week. First one started to do it then over the course of the week more and more joined in until in the 6th week they seemed quite comfortable dozing on the water as a group.

It was quite endearing watching them trying to get beaks under small wings to sleep, a task that grew easier as their wings and feather grew.

Mallard Duck Dozing on the pond 5:42pm 31st May 2021

Dozing on the pond 5:42pm 31st May 2021

Mallard Duck Where to put your feet? 4:24pm 8th June 2021

Where to put your feet? 4:24pm 8th June 2021

It always seemed a quite interrupted rest. Their eyes would be open at the slightest noise or movement and you could see them looking what was going on with their bill still under the wing as they sized up whether they should move or not.

You really didn't need to sit down sometimes - just stand still. If they were in the mood they would just trot along and settle down by your feet as you stood still. They would peck away at your socks, shoes, laces, and trouser legs for taste and then warm your feet.

Even sitting in a chair or on a bench you were not safe from their company, they would waddle along underneath you, usually after exploring your feet, and settle down in the shade beneath the seat or bench in a little pack and take their ease.

One of the pleasures of relaxing with them was studying their development, in feathers and features. While they were relaxing, they started to stretch their wings and legs more and more. It was lovely to watch as the wing, flight feathers and speculum develop from the 4th week onwards. They sometimes just used to lie with a leg and wing stretched out behind them which looked a bit funny sometimes.

Mallard Duck Looking lovely 5:52pm 14th June 2021

Looking lovely 5:52pm 14th June 2021

It was also quite a sight when they stood on one leg and stretched out, like a ballerina doing an arabesque, it was quite beautiful.

But ducks, being ducks, when they were quite rested, or fed up, one would get up, followed by another and another. Then, once the group had agreed a direction, off they went leaving you feeling just a little bit sadder that they had gone and left you all alone.

Flapping them wings

I suppose one of the main points of a growing up as a duck is to learn to fly.

Our ducks did seem to split into 4 little 'groups' in terms of the flying abilities. I have no idea if it was related to the 'waves' of groups they hatched in, but it seemed a bit like that to us. Early starters, then a patch of middle ones, then the late comers, and finally Baby. They may have of course just developed at different paces from all the groups and mixed themselves up (except Baby!).

I think the ducklings were always flapping their wings from the moment they hatched, it just wasn't very noticeable till perhaps in week 3. Their little wings were short stubby, covered in down. The flapping became more and more frequent either while in the water in pond or after leaving to dry off.

During week 4/5 the flapping and stretching of wings seemed to start in earnest. They stood for longer and longer periods, particularly after a swim, standing and flapping, sometimes even standing on 'tip toes', if such a thing could be said for webbed feet!

As they ran from once place to another one or two started to flap their wings, and as their flight feathers grew, they sometimes managed to lift of into the air for a foot or so. They started seeking higher places to flap - such as top of boxes or the pond wall. When the flight feathers were fully formed, they started to travel up to several metres from place to place.

Out on their own

During week 6/7 most of the ducks could jump and fly a little to escape anything and they were protesting more and more about being rounded up into the shed in the evening. After the 7th week we decided to leave them out all night on the basis we hadn't seen a fox, they were probably too big to be an issue with the local cats and they could at least run/ part fly away from trouble. We have a thermal camera and kept an eye on them into as night fell and into the wee small hours - they spent the entire night sitting and sleeping in the middle of the big pond!