Working in New Zealand with some unique species, it is hard to pick from the dedicated momma birds who might win the award. Is it the tiny whiteheads (pōpokotea), that nearly keel over from exhaustion feeding cuckoo chicks? Or perhaps the refined takahe, that stay tightly together as a family group and mum teaches last year’s juvenile the keys to successful chick-raising.
How about the kiwi? Oh yes - that might have to be “Dad of the year” as he sits on the egg after mum takes off (well – you would too if you laid an egg 20% of the size of your body!).
Now I’m not anti-duck, but I have to say that Mum of the Year award would NOT go to our paradise and mallard ducks. For some reason the momma ducks always leave their ducklings behind or ask them to perform impossible tasks – like flying over fences when they don’t have flight feathers yet! Crossing the road is always perilous on NZ country roads and unfortunately, more than once I have seen momma and / or ducklings in near misses, or at worst, the family run over.
What can you do to help? Prevention is always better than cure. Keep an eye out in the spring time for birds -they can be distracted and slower than normal in their family groups – slow down if you see birds at the side of the road! If you do see ducks or other species trying to cross and if it’s safe to do so, just wait for them to cross – do you really need that extra 30 seconds at your next destination? By the way, there is almost nothing more relaxing than watching a duck waddling along and ducklings following behind cheeping!
What if you hit one or see one hit? ...(This is why I am writing this, as I saw an accident happen the other day and couldn’t save the duck. Yes, I am that person on the side of the road with a towel or a net and my car hazard lights on!).... So, do pull over and see if the duck can be saved. Follow our rescue advice here.
If the bird has died, then it is a good idea to remove it from the road to somewhere far off on the verge. This is in case other family members hang around and end up coming to the same fate. Observe for a few minutes in case there are abandoned ducklings. If so round them up safely and place in a cardboard box and take to your nearest duck rehabilitator.
So, although ducks lack in safety skills, they do have another thing going for them – they can’t count!! It always warms my heart to see an accidental adopted family of ducklings. The largest count I recall is 14 ducklings in a row, waddling along behind a single momma – they could not have all been hers, but they were over half grown so she was doing well. Might have to give her that Mum of the Year award after all!
Dr Janelle Ward
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