Maladjusted mallards


Notes from the sticks: Maladjusted mallards

WE always have some mallards hanging around on our stream and on the bank, usually a pair or two, sometimes 20 or 30. Of course we can’t resist feeding them but we do take note of the experts’ advice and give them mixed corn which we buy in half-hundredweight sacks from the agricultural merchants. If we bought the small packs in supermarkets we’d be bankrupt.

Because they are so familiar, we may overlook what handsome birds mallards are, the drake with his iridescent green head and jaunty curled tail feathers, the female subtly streaked in perfect camouflage, and the pair united by a matching blue flash on the wings.

But they are truly horrible creatures. They have a rigid pecking order, which I had heard of with hens but did not know it applied to ducks too. So when the corn is put out in the morning the king and queen mallard get first dibs. They spend more time chasing off the others than eating. Then the next tier are allowed to feed and so it goes on until the last ones get the remains if they are lucky. Even when food is not involved the top birds chase, peck and tug the feathers of the lesser ones, which in turn persecute the least ones. How they arrange the hierarchy is a mystery to me, but I imagine it is by age.

They are also a pest if you have a garden. They walk straight over the plants you have been carefully tending, and even the stoutest cannot take being repeatedly trodden down by big flat orange feet. I tried putting canes round my most precious specimens but they were instantly brushed aside. I tried small wicker-type fences sold for lawn edging, but they hopped over them. Now I try not to see the bald patches.

There will be another instalment on ducks behaving badly.

PS: Writing this reminded me of the magnificent steam locomotive Mallard, built in 1938 in Doncaster and holder of the world speed record for steam locos, 126mph, achieved on 3 July 1938 on the slight downward grade of Stoke Bank south of Grantham on the East Coast Main Line. Seeing one of these marvels of engineering always moves me to tears; I think it is a reminder of the England we used to have. Here is a video of Mallard.

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