Over a year ago an adolescent female Mallard with a leg injury was admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC. A thorough examination revealed what appeared to be an old injury that had healed in a way that caused her to limp or to occasionally tuck her bad leg and hop on the good leg. Another theory was that the bad leg could be the result of a congenital defect. We really didn’t know for sure, but the shelter staff decided to give her a second chance by raising her at the shelter and monitoring whether she could overcompensate for her disability and still live a quality duck life. A short time after she was taken into shelter care, an even younger Mallard mix was admitted who had been plucked naked! Really! He had no feathering anywhere on his body but his head! The Good Samaritan who brought in the naked duckling believes that his siblings had bullied him and picked at him so much that eventually, all his down and feathers were gone. With no thermal insulation and skin protection, he would be at risk for all kinds of bad things. We kept him isolated for a while to make sure he was eating well and that there was no disease or illness present. After a few weeks, the decision was made to put the two young Mallards together for socialization as they both were going to spend a lot of time in rehabilitation. They shared an inside enclosure with plenty of food, a heated spot for the little naked duck, and a water tub for an occasional dip if they desired. The two got along famously and became inseparable. It was heart-warming to watch the little naked Mallard stick like glue to the not much older female with the imperfect leg. Although little naked duck would not get into the water because it was too cold for him, he would stand next to the tub while the young female floated around comfortably and very duck-like. They stayed inside the shelter until this Spring; eating, growing, bonding and becoming stronger in their duck behaviors. After the weather warmed they were both moved to an outside enclosure where they could graze on grass, dig bugs, get to know their natural outside habitat and enjoy a large pool maintained just for them. Little Naked Duck still looked like he was given a buzz-cut for there was no evidence of primary feathers even after eight months in rehab. Our female Mallard with the bum leg was getting around quite well, and both seemed to enjoy the larger space which is as close to the wild as we could let them get. About a month ago we noticed the female had laid a couple eggs, and now they have a duckling!! Not only did this unlikely pair, who got off to a difficult start in life, bond and become what we thought to be best duck friends, they are now partnered mates! The saga will continue for our two disabled ducks who made the best of a difficult situation; one naked but not afraid and the other wanting to live normally despite her leg impairment! Mallards, perhaps the most familiar of all ducks, are “dabbling ducks,” which means they feed by tipping forward in the water and grazing on underwater plants. Mallards have hefty bodies (two to three pounds), rounded heads and wide, flat bills. Females and juveniles have mottled brown plumage with orange and brown bills. The more colorful male, called a Drake, has a dark, shiny green head, a brilliant yellow bill and a curl at the end of his black feathered tail; so with this duck species it’s easy to tell the males from the females. Both sexes have a white and iridescent blue patch on their wings which span 32 to 39 inches. Their body is long and their blunt tail rides high out of the water. Mallards can live almost anywhere and can often be spotted grouping with other species of dabbling ducks such as Wood Ducks, Pintails, Wigeons and Teals. You might spy them on lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers, coastal habitats and city parks, as well as residential backyards. Mallards are omnivores so they eat plants (especially grasses, grains and pondweeds), as well as, insects, tadpoles, frogs, earthworms, small fish and crustaceans. During breeding season, Mallards will nest in a down lined, shallow bowl of plant material gathered at a site within a mile of water. Seven to 10, sometimes more, whitish to olive buff eggs are laid and incubation takes 26 – 30 days. After hatching, the ducklings will be able to swim and eat on their own immediately, so Momma Duck will lead her string of dabblers to water. Within 52 to 60 days, the youngsters will be ready to fly. Mallards are a very adaptable species that is not in decline and prolific throughout the world, however, North American is home to more Mallards than any other continent. Mallards are known to breed with other duck species, therefore, genetic pollution is quite evident. So, the Mallard is not the hybrid it used to be and could result in extinction at some point due to interbreeding. Predators are many for Mallards of all ages, so they must be on the lookout for a wide diversity of dangers to include humans, birds of prey, snakes, crows, Herring Gulls, heron, geese, raccoons, opossums, skunks, turtles, large fish, swans, fox, coyotes, wild cats and domestic cats and dogs. It’s a harsh world for Mallards, young and old! However, somehow, they manage to keep their average life span statistics stable at five to ten years. Our enclosed and protected Mallard duck family at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter is safe and thriving in our care, and we are anticipating long and happy lives for all three (or more) of them! At this point, they just might need to be given names other than, Little Naked Duck, Crazy Leg and Baby! Any Ideas?
best always and please enjoy the upcoming ‘Holiday Season!’
author of “Save Them All“