July 8th, 2012
What to do with an orphan duckling? The internet is not helpful. We better be prepared for two months of hard work. Ducklings take a lot of looking after, they are messy and time-consuming. They need a diet rich in protein – plenty of slugs and worms – and ideally, a specialist ‘duckling mash’. In short, we should find ‘a licensed wildlife rehabilitator’.
It’s 10.30pm on Saturday night. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are thin on the ground. So Ray and I spend the night with Daffy Duckling in a corner of the bedroom, cheeping forlornly in a washing up bowl with an old face cloth for bedding and a mesh covering to prevent it jumping out. Our cat is shut in the living room.
Well, what would you do? Earlier in the day there were three fluffy little ducklings. They emerged from the butterbur leaves on the side of the pond, looking lost. It was tempting to pick them up and put them in a box right away (and we had a houseful of streetwise young people who wanted to do just that) but the expert advice is usually to leave young birds alone so that the parents can come and retrieve them.
Three hours later there is only one little duckling. It’s getting dark and there is no sign of mother duck. Whatever got the other two is out there somewhere. Yes, of course, you would do the same. But what do we do in the morning?
I’ve had better nights sleep. The duckling is surprisingly quiet until dawn and then it joins the chorus. For a tiny creature it makes a very loud noise. From 8 am I’m out looking under stones for slugs which Daffy gobbles up but am I really doing the right thing? Another website says crushed Cheerios are acceptable in an emergency. We are fresh out of Cheerios.
A female duck appears on the pond but seems utterly unmoved by the sight or sound of the duckling – and oddly the wee bird goes quiet when we approach the edge of the water.
Time to seek expert advice. The RSPB helpline says we should contact the SSPCA. When Ray calls in person at Vane Farm, the RSPB reserve just down the road from Pond Cottage, the staff there say the same. It’s 11 am, it’s Sunday. Without much hope, Ray calls the SSPCA.
Amazingly, within an hour a smart 4×4 rolls up the lane and an equally smart uniformed man jumps out. Most people have difficulty finding Pond Cottage first time. The SSPCA duty officer knew just where to come because he’s been here on a rescue mission before; 25 years ago (long before we arrived) he was called to liberate a swan trapped among debris in what was then a sadly silted up pond. Our hero had to retreat to the village and return with an inflatable boat so he could reach the swan, cut the wing feathers free from the barbed wire and watch the bird fly off without so much as a thank you.
Daffy is a much easier job. He goes with barely a squeak into a little plastic box placed in the boot alongside a cat basket containing three very small kittens – orphaned by a road accident. The SSPCA man smilingly assures us the duckling has a good chance of survival – most likely the mother was a young bird, a first time mother abandoning her brood because she didn’t know any better. Once the duckling joins others at the Dundee sanctuary they will form a brood and teach each other how to survive.
So it’s a happy ending, with any luck. But whatever happens to Daffy I think it is nothing short of wonderful that on a Sunday (or any day of the week) there is an SSPCA driver touring the countryside rescuing abandoned and abused animals, picking up nature’s waifs and strays and taking them all to a place of safety where they stand a fair chance of living happily. Writing this has reminded me to make that online donation we said we would make to SSPCA. Well, what would you do?
Entry Filed under: Tales from Pond Cottage