COLUMN: Is it really nice weather for ducks?

A wild Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, adult male (drake) feeding in straw, on a Devon farm. England. May 2008.
A wild Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, adult male (drake) feeding in straw, on a Devon farm. England. May 2008.

It can’t have escaped your notice that February was a bit on the damp side. Wind and rain battered the countryside, leading to flooding in many areas. Whenever we get weather like this, you often hear people say “Nice weather for ducks!” But is it really?

Well, yes and no. Whilst ducks are proverbially waterproofed (think “water off a duck’s back”) even this has limits. Their feathers are designed to keep water off whilst they swim. So every now and again they have to find a dry spot to sit in and preen, to get the waterproofing back. Too much rain interrupts this, and they have to find shelter, or else spend less time swimming and feeding.

On the other hand, rain is good as it produces wet areas. Wetlands are a valuable resource for the countryside. Too often they have been viewed as ‘wasted’ land, but they play a valuable role in the health of our countryside.

In the winter they can absorb rain water that otherwise would cause flooding elsewhere. In the drier summer months they can then slowly release this water back again, to prevent surrounding land from drying out. These wetlands also provide a wonderful place for lots of wildlife to live, including ducks.

There is something about ducks that people seem to love.

Maybe it is the comical waddling when they are on land. Or the readiness of some of them to come up to us, looking for a meal. These ‘duckpond’ ducks are usually either escaped farmyard birds, or their wild cousins, mallards. Male mallards have grey bodies, a chestnut front and a blue-green head. Females are a mottled brown. Farmyard ducks are usually either white or pale brown. The two will breed with each other, so it is not unusually to see mixtures of the two. Both are quite prepared to eat food thrown to them. No wonder, for many people one of their first experiences of wildlife is feeding the ducks.

If you are a fan of feeding the feathered friends, please do not use bread.

Yes, I know it is cheap and readily available but it really isn’t good for them. They love the taste and will gobble it down but effectively it is like someone feeding you nothing but sweets.

There just aren’t the nutrients in it. The birds develop twisted wings and all sorts of other problems. So if you do feed the ducks, please do so with birdseed or proper duck food (available from pet shops).

Dr Chris Andrew

Visitor Services Officer

RSPB Frampton Marsh