At this time of year I ‘retire’ the oldest of my khaki Campbell ducks, normally to Gloagburn Farm Shop pond. There they are the source of interest and entertainment to many of the young people who visit, and who normally keep a crust or two to throw to them and to the resident moorhens. This strain of khaki Campbell, the Kortland strain, lays at least 300 eggs a year but the egg production slows down considerable after their first two years. This is when I retire them and replace them with (normally) eight new ducks. These new ducks should be starting to lay anytime and of course I still have the nine ducks from last year.
At least I thought I had.
The last few morning when I have let the ducks out from their shed I wasn’t convinced there were 17. This morning I counted them trotting out of the shed and over the bridge. Thirteen. I let them settle and looked at the rings on their legs. Seven with blue rings. These are the new ducks and there should have been eight. Five with white rings – last year’s – when there should have been seven. One with a yellow ring – I got two of the same strain from a friend last year and put yellow rings on them, so one of these was missing as well. So four missing ducks.
I contemplated the options. 1. I could have left four out last night, but that was not possible as they were contained yesterday to the smaller part of the wood and didn’t have access to the whole wood. I would therefore have seen any that lagged behind. 2. They had got through the grid from the pond into the main burn when the water in both burns was up due to heavy rain in the past few days. That was an option, though any in the past that have done this have always come back up the burn again within an hour or so. 3. A predator of some sort had been in the wood and had killed four and taken them away. I thought this unlikely as the ducks would have been unsettled and it was likely there would have been evidence of them being chased and killed.
The truth, I’m pretty sure, is a variation on theory 2. I had by now checked down the burn and found the remains of one of the ducks on the banking. It was one of my new ducks with a blue ring and had been well eaten, with just the wings, some fat and the legs left. I’m sure now that four ducks had gone through the grid a few days ago and had been caught and killed in the burn by an otter. A mink is a possibility but I’ve never seen one in the burn for many years, whereas there have been lots of sightings of an otter and earlier this year I lost a duck to an otter (and nearly a second as I chased it off as it was trying to catch a duck the week after its first kill).
While I love seeing otters, they and ducks (or hens) don’t mix. The ducks will now be put to bed earlier and let out later in the morning to eliminate them so far as possible from being out during darkness. Not that an otter wouldn’t tackle them in daylight, but the chances are somewhat less. Just in case it is a mink I now have two mink traps set. If it is a mink I’m sure I’ll catch it. If it is an otter, much as I like them, I hope it settles elsewhere.