Posted by: Ross Gardner | January 14, 2019

Bird Power


Mallard (Anas platyrhychnos) – one of the most familiar of all British birds.

The ‘extraordinary in the ordinary’ is a theme of  the natural world that has often shown itself on these pages.  A recent observation demonstrated to me once again how we can never rest on the laurels of our familiarity with even the most abiding or often seen animals with which we share our lives.

A cat stalking the bushes fringing a lake on an Essex nature reserve – the Essex Wildlife Trust’s wonderful Fingringhoe Wick, no less.  There it crouched, eyeing a few ducks dabbling about at the edge, a handful of the many such birds scattered across the water.  They included nothing special, in that there was nothing one wouldn’t expect to see here on a January afternoon; plenty of Mallard, a few Tufted Duck and good numbers of Gadwall and Shoveler, all special, of course, in their own right.

The cat pounced, without success, but scattering the ambushed few birds into the air.  At the commotion the other ducks close by would surely flee to the safety on the far side of the water.  But no, they did quite the opposite.  Within a few moments thirty or so ducks – mostly Mallard and few of the Gadwall – had come about and surged forcefully towards the offending feline, quacking loudly as they went.  The cat, bewildered at this unexpected turn of events, edged backwards, away from the water’s edge.  Yet the scolding continued, until the threat had been well and truly seen off and cajoled far away from any opportunity to renew its predatory attempt.

It was a remarkable and surprising show cooperative aggression by the birds to effectively deal with a dangerous problem.  It was a behaviour that this observer had not previously seen exhibited by the perhaps not so humble Mallard.


A pair of Gadwall (Anas strepera).

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