NOTE: Since writing this, Killian has set up the North West Wildlife Park. Check out the website by clicking on the title.
Recent visitors to Swan Park in Buncrana have been delighted to see ducks swimming about on the river. Many locals are bringing bags of bread on their walks to feed the ducks and enjoy their lively antics. But where did these domesticated mallards come from? The Inish Times tracked down Leaving Cert. student Killian McLaughlin from Scoil Mhuire to find out the full story.
Killian lives with his family in Swilly Road, Buncrana. Walking into his back garden is like walking into a wildlife park. A huge turkey is knocking on the french doors with his beak. A female turkey is sitting on eggs. Ducks and geese roam happily about the garden. Cages and pens hold quail, pheasants, lovebirds, parrots and all manner of beautiful and well cared for birds. Pigeons fly overhead and a cheeky orphaned blue-eyed jackdaw sticks his head though the aviary wire and chats to any one who’ll listen. Killian also has a baby peacock, ferrets, terrapins, a lizard and an Old English Sheepdog. He has built ponds, aviaries and sheds to care for his wildlife. Here he tells the story of the ducks of Swan Park.
In the autumn last year I purchased two ducks and a drake from a breeder. They were the first ducks I had ever kept so I had a lot to learn. I welcomed the challenge and cared for the ducks all winter watching them grow and mature.
Spring arrived and the two ducks began to lay. One duck built her nest of twigs, leaves and feathers close to the garden wall under a concealing immature willow tree. She laid 17 grey blue eggs over a period of as many days. She rarely left the nest, only to eat and drink. After the designated 28 days incubation time I looked under her. To my absolute astonishment three of the smallest black and yellow ducklings I had ever seen sat underneath their mother unphased by my presence. They made faint whistling noises.
Over the next three days the rest of the chicks began to hatch. After the fifth day I checked on her again and very unusually all seventeen had hatched. She began to leave the nest and take the ducklings on tours of the garden and the ponds.
Over the next few months I watched my duck family flourish. The mother duck also adopted four orphan ducks, which she treated as her own.. Unfortunately the day came when the family were going through more food in one day than the original ducks had eaten in a week. I offered the ducks to a good home with natural ponds and they seemed to be happy in their new home. However, after a while the ducks started to wander onto the road and a few of them disappeared. The new owner felt they needed a safer environment and chose Swan Park as their new home.
I only found out about this some time after they had been released and was very worried, as I did not believe domestic ducks would survive in the wild. I went to the Park with a net to try to recapture the birds. To my utter amazement the ducks were not the skeletons I had envisioned but were healthy and very beautiful drakes. As I could not have pictured a nicer setting for the ducks and they are getting a steady food supply from the river and from visitors providing bread I decided to let them stay.
Two ducks have since gone missing bringing the original six to four. The risks for these domesticated mallards are high. They can’t fly and could fall prey to otter, mink, foxes and even dogs. Carelessly discarded hooks, weights and lines could prove fatal to the ducks if ingested, so I would encourage fishermen to carefully dispose of their line and dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead. Although the risks are high the benefits outweigh the dangers. The ducks get to live their lives in freedom on a beautiful river and to feast on a wide variety of natural food. At present they possess very bright yellow beaks, which indicates that they are very healthy indeed.
Although these ducks appear happy on their river home I would not encourage the release of any more ducks onto the river system or any other river. This would put pressure on the environment to feed the population and it would put strain in the pecking order of the group of drakes. If another duck or drake was introduced this could result in the death or isolation of one, or the entire group.
The winter will prove hard for the four brothers on the river but I hope a constant supply of food from good willed walkers will see them through to the spring. If the ducks are respected, they could live for many years and be a great attraction in the park for countless kids to go and feed.
FINAL NOTE :These ducks are domesticated mallards and are NOT bred for the table.