Ducklings, like all baby birds, grow up remarkably quickly and with each passing week the five young mallards were transforming before my very eyes.
As time passed the mallard ducklings grew more and more accustomed to my regular visits to the waterway, and they and their mother would greet me with enthusiastic peeping calls before rummaging around my feet in search of any tasty snacks I may be carrying.
Having spent many hours in their company and developing a bond with the family, it was with great sadness then that when I caught up with them again at just over a month old, I realised that two of ‘my’ ducklings were now missing.
By now they should have been by far large enough to evade most predators and so their sudden disappearance was somewhat a mystery. I had hoped they would appear from behind the harbour wall at any moment, simply lagging behind the others but it wasn’t to be.
I can only guess they had become separated from the rest of the family and succumbed to starvation, unable to find enough food without their mother’s guidance.
Not at just over a month old, the three surviving mallards looked very different to those tiny balls of fluff I had first encountered and were approaching an important milestone in their young lives.
The ducklings had just begun their first moults, shedding their fluffy downy coats in favour of waterproof adult plumage which will eventually include the feathers needed for flight.
With untidy patches of new feathers emerging across their bodies and generous coating of mud the result was some rather dishevelled looking ducks!
At this stage it is almost impossible to tell the gender of our young ducks. Both male and females’ first mature set of feathers are a simple camouflaged brown, much like that of the adult females. Those telltale grey backs and spectacular emerald green heads won’t reveal themselves until their first winter.
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All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography © 2021
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