By Charlotte Owen
It’s duckling season and while these adorable bundles of fluff can be seen paddling about on ponds across Sussex, they can also turn up in some rather more unusual locations.
You might be surprised to see a duck out of water but mallards often nest some distance from the nearest pond. While a waterside location is preferable, competition can be high and there are not always enough nest sites to go around. Rather than fight it out and endure constant disputes with the neighbours, mallard mums will happily head off into the suburbs in search of some peace and quiet.
Gardens can offer a safe and secluded nest site, whether it is tucked away at the back of a flowerbed or higher up in the branches of a tree. Mallards aren’t fussy but they’re not always entirely sensible either. A nest in an enclosed courtyard or fifth-floor balcony might be ideal while sitting on eggs but these locations can be problematic for newly-hatched ducklings, faced with a several-storey drop or an insurmountable wall. They need to make their way back to the water and usually leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. Height isn’t always a problem, since ducks naturally nest in tree holes and ducklings will be prepared to make the leap. Being so light, they usually land unharmed - although it helps to have something soft to land on.
Once they’ve made it to the ground, they might have to walk a mile or more to reach the water and this can be a very hazardous journey. Sometimes it’s one they can’t even begin if they end up trapped in an enclosed space, in which case it’s time to call a local wildlife rescue organisation to round them up and transport them to safety. Otherwise mum will lead the way, passing through neighbouring gardens, crossing busy roads and dodging various dangers until the family reaches its destination. Here, the downy ducklings take to the water and start learning what they can and can’t eat, sticking close to mum for a good couple of months until they’re ready to fend for themselves.