Wild about home comforts

VIDEO Nature is always capable of delivering surprises to our gardens. We often hear about fleeting glimpses of unexpected guests, but rarely do creatures of the wild put down roots and start to interact with their human landlords.

Nature is always capable of delivering surprises to our gardens. We often hear about fleeting glimpses of unexpected guests, but rarely do creatures of the wild put down roots and start to interact with their human landlords. PETER BLYTHE tells of his own experiences over the summer when nature came to stay.

ONE by on,e her four siblings and her mother flew the nest never to return.

She was always the misfit of the flock, the runt... the original ugly duckling. While her two sisters and two brothers grew into magnificent mallards, the little duck hardly grew at all.

The two larger females were identical brown feathered creatures with a shock of purple and white plumage at the base of their wings. The males were of the classic variety, pure pale lemon with bold yellow beaks. The runt, meanwhile, was just grey with specks of white. She moved swiftly, but awkwardly and her quack was at times ear-piercing.

But when it came to feeding, the little ugly one was always at the front on the queue, pushing her bigger siblings to one side.

Regular readers will recall how one Sunday morning in June I woke up to the magnificent sight of the mother leading a line of her newly-hatched ducklings on a stroll around the garden. My lawn was due for a cut that day, and these tiny creatures were dwarfed by each blade of grass.

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What made this vision so unusual was that I live in the middle of the Grange Farm housing development in Kesgrave.

Suffolk is blessed with wide open spaces and waterways, but for a reason known only to mum, she chose the suburban surroundings of my garden and its two small fish ponds.

I had caught sight of the mother and her partner on a couple of occasions in late April, but thought no more of it.

Then one day a friend stumbled across the mother sitting on her nest in the foliage behind one of the ponds.

BBC One was screening Springwatch 2007 at the time, but each day I was being treated to my own personal version as I watched over the expectant mum. I was every bit the amateur Bill Oddie.

The five little ones arrived within hours of each other and were soon paddling as fast that their tiny web feet would allow on my small pond.

Over the coming weeks I watched their development with fascination.

As fine feathers started to poke through their soft down, the little ones started to grow more adventurous.

They developed a taste for fish food, diving into the pond every time I attempted to feed my koi.

As their appetites grew, so did their cheek. Before long I was being woken each morning at around 5am by a chorus of quacks only to find a collection of hungry beaks pressed against the glass of my patio doors. The only way I could silence them, and in doing so give my neighbours some peace, was to reach for the fish food.

Soon they were so at ease that they began to feed straight from my hands, with mum nervously watching from a few strides away.

I was amazed by their rate of growth and how their characters developed from day to day. The little one was at the centre of everything.

One Sunday afternoon I was reading a booking in my lounge, when I heard a loud “quack, quack”. I looked down and found her little speckled face looking up at me. She had led the delegation of ducklings into my home to demand food.

Within weeks four of the ducklings were as big as their mother, and it became clear that she was itching for them to leave the garden.

Three or four times a day she would leave fly off for up to an hour, sending her babies into a state of panic.

She tried to get them to fly by landing in my next door neighbour's garden and calling them from beyond the fence.

This prompted loud cackling from the ducklings and plenty of wing flapping, but no sign of take off.

As the weeks progressed it made compelling watching as four of the five (the little one being the exception) went through their flight drills. They married wing flapping with runs and little jumps, each one attempting to outdo the other in a kind of weird dance-off. While this went on, the little one - by this time more white than grey - watched on with little interest.

One evening the excitement level amongst the ducks seemed to have gone up a notch. Then something amazing happened. Mum had been out for her early evening flight and I spotted her in the distance as she swooped low over the row of the garden fences. I fully expected her to land on the lawn, but she dived and then soared - with one of her young literally clinging to her tail feathers. Off he went into the red sky and I never saw him again.

Over the next four weeks they vanished. The two females, the mother and finally the second male.

Left behind on her lonesome was the little duck.

At first I felt sorry for her and I feared she might fall prey to a cat or some other nocturnal predator.

But soon it became clear to me that seemed content with her lot.

Sometimes she flaps her wings furiously, but never attempts to take off. She cheerfully engages with humans and still demands her food straight from my hands.

Not knowing how she will cope with the winter I decided to invest in a little home for her. I purchased a small kennel which I lined with straw. Within an hour of its arrival she was ensconced.

The world outside is a mystery to her. It's just a collection of curious and sometimes disturbing noises. Her inability to fly doesn't seem to bother her and she pays little attention to the birds that stop for a drink at the waterfall leading to “her” pond.

She's no longer the ugly duckling, more the urban duck… born to be wild but seemingly content to be the perfect pet.

n Have unusual animals or birds set up home in your garden? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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