Saturday, May 26, 2018

Where Do Wild Ducks Nest?

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Prose

The three young boys scoured the banks of the river, risking a soaking, clambering out over the water on over-hanging trees, wading back to check possible nesting sites. They were in search of a wild duck’s nest. This was the one that eluded them all spring. All other water birds like the moor hen had been fairly easy to see, sitting on their nests, nervously watching, ready to take off should danger threaten.

They were in no danger from the boys, whose desire was simply to find the nests and note their existence, and observe them without disturbance.

A wild duck was a water bird, so where would it nest except on the water? It seemed logical to the boys, who talked and argued about it continuously.

It was during one of these arguments, whilst sitting on the river bank enjoying the shade of an Alder tree, that the boys were suddenly shocked to hear a voice saying ‘And what are you young shavers up to?’ It was old Mr Jones, the river bailiff. Boys usually made a hasty retreat when approached by any form of authority. This time, however, they stood their ground, explained their problem and, knowing that he had a great knowledge of the river bank, asked him for the solution. After a good deal of questioning and having to prove that the nests they found were completely safe, the bailiff startled the boys by telling them that the wild duck more often than not nested in hollow trees, twenty feet or so off the ground. The boys were so surprised by this that they began to think that they were being hood-winked. Surely, they argued, ducks were water birds. The kindly old bailiff simply said ‘Follow me and keep quiet.’ A little way up river he stopped and pointed to an old tree about twenty yards from the river bank, some fifteen feet off the ground. A hollow, where a branch had broken off, could clearly be seen, and there peeping over the edge, the female duck.

The boys were so amazed at this revelation and so full of eager questions, that the old chap simply smiled, consulted his note book, for a moment, then having made up his mind, told the boys that the duck would probably hatch her brood sometime between Friday and Monday the next weekend, and that the boys should mount a nest watch and try and see the vital hatching. This, he promised, would be a sight to remember all their lives. This should be for their eyes only, no spilling the beans, causing a crowd of horrible young idiots to disturb the peace.

The boys made for the river bank on the Friday, grabbing their tea and eating it on the run. They were relieved to see the bird still on its nest. Saturday passed slowly and eventually hunger made the three lads give up and seek sustenance. The duck was also getting restive, making clucking sounds. The lads decided to head back to the village, spend all their pocket money purchasing fish and chips, then return for a final evening watch.

Thus fortified, and feeling much more satisfied, they raced back to their watch duties. On nearing the nest they were alarmed to hear the agitated quacking of the female duck. She seemed to be greatly alarmed. The boys crept up, staring in wonderment. The duck had left the nest and was calling urgently to her brood, peeping down from their nest fifteen feet above. Then the miracle happened, the little bundles of brown and yellow simply jumped off the nest, landing with a soft plop, then waddled away to their mum, all twelve of them, straight onto the water swimming and feeding without a care in the world.

For a long time the boys argued and pondered at the wonders of nature. How did the tiny bundles of feathers jump unhesitating from their nest and into the water without a trace of fear? Truly nature is a miracle.

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