A Rather Special Duck and her Family

In the spring of 2018 I got my first duckling rescue of the year.  The caller said one of the ducklings was very lame and struggling to keep up with its siblings.  Duckling rescues are never straightforward so on the way I picked up my friend and fellow rescuer, Nicci, to give me a helping hand.  The pond was hidden behind some houses, was tiny and on private land.  I felt a little more optimistic but suddenly I saw the poor duck being attacked by two amorous drakes.  The lady that had called me said their chasing was relentless.  Lesser ducks would have flown off and abandoned the ducklings but this beautiful duck stuck close to her babies.

Any chasing of the ducklings, to catch the injured one, could spook mum resulting in her   flying – and she also had to contend with her two admirers chasing her!  The plan was for Nicci to get in the  pond and target the duckling with the limp, separate it from the others, to enable me to net it.  As it happened, when Nicci entered the water the duck got out, quickly followed by her ducklings.  I was able to identify the one with a limp – in fact it was a fractured leg – and quickly netted it – the job was done!

We were hugely relieved that not only had we caught the injured duckling but that it had been done with minimum disruption.  I was not hopeful for the other ducklings as I thought the mum would eventually abandon them due to the two drakes.  However, the lady that called me continued to send updates and against all odds the entire brood of ducklings fledged.

In 2019 the duck returned, this time there was only one drake with her so he had obviously seen off his rival!  Again, all the ducklings survived.  The residents had made a duck house and did as much as possible to make it a good environment for the duck family.  It was wonderful to continue to receive updates and last week the duck returned.79a54bd3-a9bd-4f08-8ff3-7a5b335cff3781e0e2cc-89fd-491b-ba82-b88df80cf030fullsizeoutput_99b  Slightly earlier than in previous years so there was a rush to get the duck house ready for the class of 2020.  I look forward to receiving updates.

When everything about rescuing seems stressful and difficult and you feel like there are barriers whichever way you turn it’s these type of stories that make it all worthwhile.

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It’s been several months since I last posted – there were two main reasons for this. One was that I had been too busy to manage to put anything together that was worth reading but I also believed that any rescues I wrote about would start to sound repetitious.  Territorials, cygnets being chased, fishing problems, wanton cruelty – they all start to be very similar.  I have probably picked up 12 cygnets in 2020 that have been chased off by their parents and they are all so similar they blur into one.

So I got thinking abut what else I could do and I have been looking back on some rescues and the people I keep in touch with.   I will have a new post in the next few days but in the meantime here’s a few photos of some swan and cygnet rescues.

July Highlights

Earlier in July I received a call from a member of the public to say a cygnet at Canada Waters was caught up in fishing line and was frantically trying to free itself. I drove as quickly as was legal but when I arrived it soon became apparent that a boat was essential and needed as soon as possible. The cygnet was at risk of drowning.  All I could do was phone 999 for the Fire Services and they were amazing. It wasn’t quick as the first crews had to put calls out for 2 water rescue crews.  Besides the local crews they came from Lewisham and Bethnal Green and the longer it went on the bigger the crowd, that had gathered, became. Even in the boat, they had trouble catching the cygnet as there were rocks around where he was stuck and it meant that it was difficult to access as the boat kept becoming grounded. All came good in the end though and  I took the cygnet, who had a very sore and swollen leg, to the Swan Sanctuary.  London Fire Service are the best!

Young juvenile geese featured prominently in this month’s rescues.  A couple with broken legs, one with a wing deformity and another with a deformed bill who would never be able to graze and would not get enough to eat in the wild.  Fortunately a permanent home was found for him where a ready supply of food will always be available.  There was also another juvenile goose with some sort of twine wrapped round his tongue and added to that a twig hanging that was longer than the bird.  Young birds do seem to get themselves into a lot of scrapes.

The duckling rescues are slowing down but there’s still plenty and I have recently been told of two ducks nesting in window boxes which will require rescuing!  Both are at least 3 floors up on balconies!

And finally,  while the hot, dry spell continues please leave bowls of water in as many places as you can.  All our birds and animals need clean, fresh water.  Thank you.

Other fire fighters watch the boat crew in action
Cautious of mum trying to protect her cygnet
Cygnet is finally caught and I breathe a huge sigh of relief
This young goose was easy enough to spot
Caught by Nicci in the boat
Receiving veterinary care
Juvenile goose born with bill deformity and unable to graze

Duckling Releases

IMG_0902Recently, I seem to start each post saying that I’ve had even more duckling rescues than the month before. They are still coming in but thank goodness they’re slowing down.  However, I want to write about the releases.

With other rescues, once the bird is caught the job is done but if you catch mum and her ducklings you are only halfway there.  The release can be stressful as there’s always the fear that mum could fly off and you can’t recover the ducklings.  I’m crossing everything when I say it hasn’t ever happened to me (yet) and I believe if you follow a few basics you are okay.  The main thing is to put the ducklings on water first. It’s instinct to think it’s better to put mum on the water first so that if she flies off the ducklings are still safe.  However, if you do it this way once the carrier is open she will fly out at great speed, but, if she’s held back and she sees her young go on the water, instinct takes over and she will want to catch up with them.  This has always worked for me but it doesn’t completely take the stress away.

Most of my duckling rescues are in Central London so I don’t know how the families fare as I release in parks that I’m unlikely to return to.  Recently though I did a duck and duckling rescue in Croydon and released them in nearby Waddon Ponds.  I know a few people that regularly use this park and so have been delighted to be able to get updates on the family.  They went from nine to three ducklings over the course of a couple of weeks.  However, this is actually pretty good.  It’s not unusual for ducks to lose all their ducklings, within a few days of hatching, so a duck that has had her young in an alien environment then is netted and removed with her ducklings has done pretty well to keep a third of them.

Also, a successful rescue and release will cut our workload.  If a duck loses all her ducklings or flies off during a rescue they will usually go on to lay more eggs in the same location.  And more importantly it’s a very sad outcome for a duck, that has been incubating her eggs for four weeks, to lose all her ducklings.

June Highlights

June has brought heap loads of rescues for young waterbirds – not surprising at this time of year.  Here is a snapshot of some of June’s rescues.  A big thank you to Adam, Nicci and Paula for all your help this month.


May Round Up

Abandoned gosling
Injured cygnet
Another injured cygnet – dog attack
Receiving treatment from vet at Swan Sanctuary
Ready to join the others
Gosling with leg injury
Swan looks relaxed but not allowed on water by resident cob who’s protecting his family
Straight release into nearby flock
Off he goes

May has been incredibly busy – mostly dominated by duck and duckling rescues.  The ones I get calls for are usually in Central London.  Sadly the ones I hear about are probably only a small fraction of the ducks that are nesting in balconies and courtyards.  Many must perish.  Ducks are losing more and more of their natural habitat and therefore nesting in inappropriate places that are a long way from water.  When I drive around London and look at the continuous building programmes, erecting more and more blocks of flats, I am drawn to the balconies and the rather lovely flower displays which to me are just possible nesting sites!

For the first time ever I have had similar rescues but for geese and their goslings.  I went to flats in Kidbrooke where a lot of elderly and disabled people were living.  The communal gardens, on two different levels, both occupied Canada Geese with their newly hatched goslings.  The new parents had put both the gardens out of bounds. Neither the gardener nor the maintenance man would step out there as the geese tried to ‘attack them’ – their words not mine!  So the grass becoming overgrown and there was goose poo everywhere.  The one good thing was that goslings can’t run as fast as ducks and there was a pond within the complex.  Unfortunately the goslings didn’t hatch at the same time so it involved two trips before the residents could reclaim their gardens.

There were a flurry of goslings and cygnets with leg injuries and a couple of territorials where pairs of swans had unwelcome visitors!  It is always sad to take injured cygnets and goslings, that are only a few weeks old, although without intervention they would die.  They will not be able to be released until they are fully independent which could be another five months. However, they will go onto a sanctuary lake much sooner and they will learn to search for food themselves by pulling up pond weeds and vegetation from the lakes. However, they will still get fed a good supplement of swan pellets and grain.


May the Force Be with You……..London Emergency Services at Their Best!

Sometimes rescues can be made more difficult by the people you encounter.  Their expectations are often way too high and they forget that you are an unpaid volunteer with another job to pay the bills!  However, the majority of people I encounter are lovely but I had the misfortune of two jobs on the same day with, shall I say, challenging people!

Thank goodness, the next two rescues were the exact opposite with the emergency services being as helpful and kind as you could wish for.

I had a call to go to Croydon where a juvenile swan had flown out of a small pond and crashed landed on a balcony.  On the phone it sounded relatively straightforward but when I arrived I realised that it was clearly going to be a more complicated rescue.  There was no way I could access the balcony.  I hadn’t been told that the residents were away and I did not feel confident about borrowing a ladder to climb up to the balcony.  I would have to come down with one hand holding the swan – and let’s not forget I would be trespassing.  I had no choice but to call the Fire Brigade.  I sat in my car and waited and within 5 minutes I heard the welcome sound of their sirens.  I explained the situation and after a brief discussion they appointed their newest recruit, aka ‘Sparrow’, to rescue the swan.  Sparrow was told by the other fire fighters that it was just like catching a very large duck and was then sent him up the ladder to retrieve the swan.  I couldn’t see what was going on but heard a lot of hissing and flapping, from the swan, and a few expletives from Sparrow.  Eventually,  he emerged with a swan tucked under his arm and carefully defended down the ladder.

The swan only had superficial injuries but I did not feel he was fit for release so he went to the Swan Sanctuary for some R&R.

Only a few days later I received a call from the Swan Sanctuary to see if I could go to a collapsed swan in Woolwich.  It was a Saturday evening and it would take me anything up to 90 minutes.  I immediately asked ‘Is there really no-one else that can go?’ only to be told there wasn’t.  The swan was lying in a car park but very close to the water’s edge so if she had a burst of energy and/or chased by a dog she might go into the water and swim away.

It’s really stressful driving to somewhere when you know it’s a long journey.  The woman with the swan had to leave as she had been with her for three hours waiting for the RSPCA, who she had originally called.  However, a police officer had arrived and he said he could stay until anything more urgent arose.  He spoke to me on the phone and said that if he had to leave he promised to get a PCSO to stay with the swan until I arrived.

It certainly took the pressure off driving there and I managed to stay within the speed limit!  When I rang to tell the PCSO I had hit heavy traffic he told me not to worry.  He said he would stay until I got there even though his shift was coming to an end.

Strangely enough about five minutes before I arrived the RSPCA turned up more than four hours after their original call.  This is not a criticism of the individual staff but I never really understand why the staffing levels are so low when they are one of the wealthiest charities in the UK.  I was glad that they decided to leave me to pick up the swan and take it to the Swan Sanctuary which is, after all, where the swan will get specialist treatment.


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I took the swan home and made her comfortable in my shed. She may have not moved but there was nothing wrong with her appetite – she wouldn’t stop eating.  I transferred her to the sanctuary the following morning.  There was no apparent reason for her inability to stand but she remains at the sanctuary making progress, albeit slowly.

So thank you Police and Fire Fighters for your kindness and compassion.