Emma Newman Profile picture
May 24, 2021 21 tweets 6 min read Read on X
Ummmm... #operationmallard lovelies? I have some unexpected news and you might want to get a drink and a blanket. I am quite nervous about telling you all about this, I have to say.

I got this message from my Dad a couple of days ago: Picture of a duck in the pl...
He said he did a proper double-take. He couldn't believe it. It was like Groundhog Day, but with ducks. He was just stumbling to the kitchen first thing in the morning, glanced out the window... and there was a duck there!

He sent back: "Well, it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck... yep, it's a duck 🦆😯"

I phoned him. "Is it Mrs Mallard?" I asked, very worried that she had returned so quickly. Where were the ducklings? What was going on?
"I think she's a different duck," Dad said. And then told me why. You see, mallards look after their ducklings for 50-60 days after hatching, and Mrs Mallard's brood only left 20 days ago. "Even if the worst had happened, she probably wouldn't come back to lay again so soon."
But we were still worried. He said he'd find out about telling the difference between female ducks and he'd get back to me once he knew whether it was her.

Hours later he calls me back. "It's not Mrs Mallard," he said and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then he adds "Sort of."
"What do you mean, sort of?"

"I think the duck I saw this morning wasn't the one who nested earlier this year. I think she's the Mrs Mallard from last year. I think the duck who left two weeks ago wasn't actually 2020's Mrs Mallard at all. She was a different duck!"

"Oh shit!"
After a pause I said "PLOT TWIST" and then we both laughed and talked about identification: the shape of the 'eye-line' - the black feathers that run back from the eye, and also the shape of the head and the patterning of the feather colouration - which is subtle but present.
We really wanted to be sure they were different - and whether this latest duck was Mrs Mallard from last year! So I pulled stills from both the Operation Mallard 1 and 2 videos and sent them to Dad. We pored over them, both of us starting to look a bit like this: Image
It's hard to tell when you're using a mobile phone video filmed through patio door glass! We both concluded that Mrs Mallard from two weeks ago and the Mrs Mallard he saw that morning were different ducks. He wanted to get more footage and observe her for a couple more days.
He called me this afternoon, sent me more footage, and yeah, we are pretty confident that the Mrs Mallard from 2020 has come back to nest again, and that the Mrs Mallard who left two weeks ago with 11 ducklings was just a different duck!
"This isn't narratively tidy, Dad," I said, only half-serious. "I can't believe this is happening. I thought we had a whole year to recover! And we misidentified the last duck!"

I feel weirdly guilty about that! The whole time we thought she'd come back, but no!
"There isn't facial recognition technology for ducks, Em," Dad replied. "And if there is, I don't have it here! And it just didn't occur to me that she could be a different duck! I just thought she was month early!"

But no, this duck just heard about this great spot, obviously!
So once we were confident about what was going on, and who this duck is, we decided to let you all know.

Operation Mallard 3 looks like it is happening a whole year early! She's laid 6-7 eggs so far, but isn't sitting to hatch them yet.

I...I can't believe this is my life now.
Her behaviour matches last year's Mrs Mallard much more closely too - she favours early mornings more than... this years... argh! I'm still working out what to call them both! They can both be Mrs Mallard of course, but we didn't give them first names. MY WRITER BRAIN IS HURTING!
Dad had left all the down from the previous nest there for some starlings that were nesting - he'd been watching them carry it off for their nest. But he also saw a duck fly past several times with two drakes over the past couple of weeks, and he thinks it was her.
Apparently it's quite common for a bird to take a used nest - and it's a brilliant spot. Sheltered by those tall grasses, lots of soil and soft down there already.

Dad said today that she's been finding bits of the old shells and eating them for the calcium!
And the laying season can run until July so... so I have learned the lesson not to think "Okay, that's done for this year!" when it comes to my Dad's balcony and ducks.

I'll let you know when she starts sitting so we can mark our calendars.

Lots of people have speculated that the... earlier Mrs Mallard this year may be a daughter from last year's brood. Dad isn't sure. We know lots of species - including birds - return to the same spot to have babies but not sure if this is the case here. I love the idea though!
What we need is a clever duck specialist who might know if daughters come back to their birth spot to nest. With this balcony being 9 floors up, and them only being on it so briefly I just don't know. Ooooh, @Natures_Voice - do you have any duck experts who might know?
Just wanted to add to this thread that it's not likely that the duck who laid earlier this year was a daughter, just another very smart duck who'd heard of the best place to nest in the area! Link to expert opinion tweet below!
Oh, and if this is the first you've heard of the #operationmallard saga, I made some YouTube videos about the first two clutches of eggs (back when we thought they were the same duck!). You can find them on my channel here: youtube.com/c/EmmaNewmanAu…

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More from @EmApocalyptic

Jun 22, 2021
#Operationmallard 3 lovelies! Let me tell you how stressful Dad's morning was! Yesterday (21st of June) lots of the ducklings hatched, but Mrs Mallard showed no desire to leave the nest and take the family down to the water. Dad could only count about 6 ducklings at most.
It might have been that the last 2 or 3 eggs hadn't hatched, or she just didn't fancy leaving yet but either way, they all settled down by evening and stayed the night. Dad got up just before 4am, thinking she'd want to leave at dawn, like last year.
But no. She stayed put. Dad waited. Then, to his horror, a group of workmen arrived right at the base of the building and started up a generator! He knew the ducklings would have to go to the water soon, so he went to speak to them...
Read 19 tweets
Jun 21, 2021
Calling all #operationmallard lovelies! I have an update on the current nesting duck on Dad's balcony.

If you just read that and wondered if you were having a Groundhog day moment, you might have missed this thread:
So Dad and I were expecting the current clutch of 9 eggs to hatch on Wednesday. However, he phoned me this morning to say that Momma duck's behaviour ('OG Mrs Mallard' from 2020) has changed today, so they might be hatching earlier than we thought!
He counted the 28 (+/- 1) day incubation period from the first day that she sat for 22 hours on the eggs. However, the day before that she sat for 12 hours, and the weather up there has been really warm and sunny for weeks, so....
Read 17 tweets
May 4, 2021
Lovelies, I have an #operationmallard update! A BIG ONE! Pull up a chair, maybe grab a blanket and a cuppa? You're about to get on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster...
I got a message from my Dad at about 8:30am, saying that Operation Mallard 2 was about to begin! I replied, wishing him luck, then he phoned and said he'd seen two tiny little duckling heads peeping out so far. One problem though: the wind.
A storm blew through yesterday with gale force winds and rain. Today it's much sunnier but the wind this morning was still just over 20mph - and 9 floors up, it really whips around the building.
Read 20 tweets
May 3, 2021
Good morning, my lovelies. In case you missed it last night, I've put an update video on YouTube all about how Dad is preparing for the big day - he made some footage for you containing cute diagrams! #operationmallard
A few people have asked why he's not just taking them down in the lift. He feels that the bucket approach causes the least distress to Mrs Mallard, makes sure that the maternal bond is preserved and is also the fastest solution.
Using the 'ducket' means that Momma and ducklings can hear each other throughout - which is absolutely critical - and it's only a few seconds of separation. Also far, far less stressful for them than many minutes of trying to corral them all through an alien environment.
Read 4 tweets
May 1, 2021
Lovelies, I've just had a chat with Dad and there are a couple of updates I thought you might like if you're following #operationmallard :) First is regarding Mr Mallard as a few of you have asked about him. I've been fixated on Mrs Mallard, so never asked him before!
So Mr Mallard is nearby! He stands on the big white bridge over the canal and they quack at each other! Earlier in the nesting cycle, they saw much more of each other - she lays an egg per day so they had to... do some lovin' daily ;) [feels so British and awkward!]
Once all the eggs were laid, he called for her on most days and they would go off for a bit of time together, when she wasn't off on the razzle with the other ducks who came calling for her. She's quite popular, our Mrs Mallard ;)
Read 8 tweets
Apr 28, 2021
Oh. My. Goodness. Okay... errrr... well my tweet thread yesterday about my Dad and #operationmallard seems to have gone viral.

Umm... good morning everyone who's now invested in this story. I shall do my very best to look after you. Just need to finish this cup of tea...
My stream is moving so fast and I am so overwhelmed I can't reply to everyone otherwise my brain will get too fried and I won't be able to do the thing I want to work on today. But please do keep sending your stories about ducks and other birds nesting at your homes!
Honestly, the absolute bestest thing is all the people saying it's brightened their day. YAY! I am so glad! I wish I could make you all a cup of tea (or other comforting beverage of your choice) and give you a hug. #operationmallard updates will have to suffice though!
Read 7 tweets

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