I am Wildlife Rescue - Mallard Duck
With over 30 years of practice, experts in cuts, bruises, teeth, beak and claws we're continuing our impactful journey with the aim of delivering to our readers and supporters, knowledge about wildlife rescue and how vital this unique community is for the conservation of British wildlife and nature.
The last 3 decades has seen WildAid celebrating the rescue and release of thousands of wild animals and re-homing of a diverse range of animals otherwise destined for a far less respectable ending. This second 'edition' of I am Wildlife Rescue' explore stories about the animals who have been in our care and have made an impact on the lives of people and nature: The Mallard Duck.
Many of us would see a Mallard duck fairly frequently. Typically when heading down to the park to feed the ducks, bread bag in hand, greeted by a 'paddling' of ducks eager to gobble up our tasty treats. At the sanctuary we would typically receive several dozen Mallard Ducks within a year. Most being ducklings. This quantity just a pinch when some of the larger rescues receive several hundred if not more.
- Only the female Mallard quacks. The male does not quack; instead he gives a quieter, rasping, one- or two-noted call.
Mallard ducklings are most vulnerable when very young and can easily be separated from their mothers (Duck). The male Mallard (Drake) is voracious in his behavior to breed where the ducks can be chased away. During the spring breeding season, gangs of male ducks physically attack each other to get access to female ducks. This not only leads to plucked featherless areas and skin lacerations, but females often drown as they cannot escape the driven males. Females that manage to escape the male ducks often nest up to a mile away from the water. This abnormal nesting behavior may put them at risk of urban predators, vehicle collisions, and perils not associated with nesting in natural areas. Ducklings become vulnerable to predation and separation too.
No crackers for the quackers:
What many people don't realize is that bread, rolls, chips, and other human "snack food" items do not offer the proper nutrition that ducks and geese need -- and that the act of feeding a diet heavy in breads and other empty carbohydrates can lead to severe health consequences and a variety of other problems. Wild ducks feed on a variety of grains and grasses, aquatic plants, and invertebrates, all naturally found in the wild. When eaten in combination, these foods are nutritionally balanced and provide everything a wild duck needs to survive.
In contrast, foods commonly fed to waterfowl in public parks, such as bread and crackers, are low in protein and essential nutrients and minerals (such as calcium and phosphorus). While a single feeding of these “junk foods” may not harm waterfowl, it adds up!
Waterfowl in public parks are often admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers with metabolic bone disease (MBD). Birds with MBD have incredibly soft bones and joints that are often malformed and fractured; these injuries are caused by an overall calcium deficiency in the body, which is linked to an inappropriate diet. Calcium also plays a crucial role in the formation of eggs/offspring, clotting ability, cardiovascular and neuromuscular function, and a variety of other metabolic activities. Birds with MBD are often so malformed they cannot fly and become dependent on handouts, completing a vicious cycle. Affected birds are typically too weak to compete for food and defend themselves and are often the victims of aggressive attacks by other waterfowl.
One more problem with bread products is that this type of food expands in water -- and the stomach -- which gives ducks and geese an artificial feeling that they are full. As a result, these birds may not feel motivated to continue foraging on natural foods of higher nutritional value.
Overcrowding & Disease
In the wild, a particular lake or pond habitat can sustain a certain number of ducks – there is a maximum number of individuals that can successfully reside there indefinitely, with enough food, water, and shelter. This “carrying capacity” of the habitat can be artificially increased when supplemental food is added.
Overcrowded habitats also are prime territories for disease outbreaks; there have been numerous outbreaks of botulism, avian cholera, duck plague (duck enteritis virus), and aspergillosis (fungal infection) in urban duck ponds where supplemental feeding is a regular activity. Feces generated by overcrowded waterfowl result in increased deposition of carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen in the water. The addition of these nutrients to water (a process known as eutrophication) promotes excessive algae growth, leading to decreased oxygen levels, foul-smelling green and cloudy water, fish kills, and an overall decrease in water quality. Some common algae species (blue-green algae) even produce toxins associated with illness in wildlife, humans, and pets.
Duck's at your service:
The Mallard is an integral part of the ecosystem. Every time they splash down they leave something behind, like an Amazon delivery driver. When they visit wetlands they can establish biodiversity by introducing plant, invertebrate, amphibian and fish species from other sites. This wetland-to-wetland delivery method works for established ecosystems, too.
- There are between 61,000 to 145,000 breeding pairs of Mallards across the British Isles and up to 675,000 birds over wintering.
In the face of climate change, dispersal by waterbirds, such as Mallards, can help a species shift its range. As conditions get warmer, waterfowl can help other species expand to climates where they can continue to be successful. It also helps keep a species’ gene pool diverse, making it easier for the species to avoid inbreeding and adapt to changing environments. Having many types of genes gives species a stronger toolkit for facing adversity.
There is no doubt that the Mallard is one of our most cherished and well encountered water birds. We hope you have enjoyed reading our article; that it has enabled learning and inspired you.
Thank you for reading and we hope you can support all our vital work.
"It's all about encouraging people to participate and learn about the natural world through hands on discovery."
Established in 1991 as a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre, WildAid has been making a difference for wildlife welfare throughout the UK ever since.
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