DTI001 15_11_17

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Protect, prevent, preserve

In the second article of his three-part series on garden ducks, PHILIP SCHOFIELD suggests suitable enclosures

All domestic breeds of duck descend from the mallard, apart from the Muscovy,  which is derived from the wild Cairina moschata, a perching duck from Latin AmericaAll domestic breeds of duck descend from the mallard, apart from the Muscovy, which is derived from the wild Cairina moschata, a perching duck from Latin America

LET us look at what is needed to keep one or more pairs of ornamental wildfowl in the garden. Their basic needs are to be protected from predators, prevented from escaping and made to feel secure at all times.

Ducks are, of course, safest in the aviary, completely enclosed by wire netting. However, this needs to be big enough. A pair of teal – there are many species of teal available – can be comfortable in a pen as small as 3m2 (10ft2). This allows room for appropriate planting, a small pond and sufficient room for them to run around without reducing the ground area to a muddy mess.

Ideally, two of the aviary sides should be solid, to give protection from weather and security for the birds. Your ducks should not be able to see people (or passing predators) on all four sides of their enclosure, otherwise they will panic, try to get away and always be in a state of nervous uncertainty. If two sides are solid, they will retreat to the corner if they feel threatened, and gain in confidence as they come to appreciate that nothing can get at them.

For such an aviary, the wire netting need only be 5cm (2in) mesh to keep the ducks in. However, a fox can get its jaws around netting of this size and bite through. This means that you need smaller mesh (2.5cm (1in) will do) for the bottom 0.9m (3ft) of the aviary sides, though the cheaper 5cm (2in) mesh can be used for the rest of the sides and the roof.

However, if the whole aviary is enclosed in smaller mesh, then wild ducks will not be able to steal food and perching birds can be enclosed with the ducks.

Ducks in an aviary do not need to be pinioned, and some species such as ringed teal will make good use of elevated perching under these conditions. The wire needs to be turned out for at least a foot, and pegged down firmly to the ground. Grass will grow through this and form an impenetrable barrier to anything that tries to dig in. Any predator try to effect an entry will always start digging at the base of the wire, even the “crafty” fox will not think of backing off a couple of feet and digging there, hence the turnout.

If ducks are to be released into an existing garden, it must be remembered that the first thing they do is try to get away. This does not mean they don’t want to live there – it is not a rational “decision”. A duck let out of a box will keep running until it feels secure. If there is a big enough pond, it might sit on the water until it calms down. It is more likely to run until it comes to an impenetrable barrier or dense cover, where it can recover its composure. If there is a hole in the fence, newly arrived ducks will find it – and never be seen again. Perching ducks such as Mandarins and Carolinas are likely to climb over low fences and disappear.

Ringed teal (Callonetta leucophrys)Ringed teal (Callonetta leucophrys)

From the above, it will be understood that a fox-proof fence may be the best way of retaining waterfowl in your garden. In this setting your ducks need no “housing”. They are impervious to weather and will take refuge under shrubs in the worst of our winters. However, some people let their ducks run loose in the garden by day and shut them up at night, this can work well if certain conditions are observed, and if the local foxes only come round after dark.

The perimeter fence must be duck-proof and your duck house needs to be in a corner of the garden or enclosure, so that when you walk the ducks towards it they walk in the door, rather than go behind or under the house.

In many ways, a small fox-proof enclosure or aviary makes better night housing than a shed. In time, your ducks will learn that they get driven into their shed or night pen late each day, and may even put themselves in so all you need to do is shut the door or gate. However, it is not their natural behaviour to go to bed at night (unlike chickens, which roost at night, ducks are active round the clock) and they can’t be relied on to do this.

Open to the elements
FOR an open-topped enclosure, small mesh at the bottom with a turnout is needed, with larger mesh to a height of 1.8m (6ft) and an outward turnout at the top for another foot. This deters foxes from running up the wire to get it. My own waterfowl enclosure is fenced like this and has kept foxes out for the past 26 years, although cats can still get in and have been a problem at times. Birds of prey can take the occasional duck, which cannot happen in a covered aviary. However, in more than 40 years with ducks I have only had one killed by a sparrowhawk, and possibly one or two taken by tawny owls.

 


Philip Schofield has kept birds since 1967 and is a member of Aviornis, the British Waterfowl Association. Next week he looks at the pros and cons of ponds for ducks.


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