Last year, the Australian Wood Duck pair first brought their brood of ducklings to our dam on 14 September, so I have been watching and waiting for ducklings since mid-September this year.  Finally, this week they appeared.  We first sighted nine ducklings being led by two parents at dusk about a week ago.  They were on the opposite side of the dam and at that time of the evening with the lens I have, the conditions were not ideal for photographs.

In previous years, once the ducklings appeared for the first time, we saw them at least twice a day from that point on, when their parents walked them down to the dam for a swim, followed by feeding in the grass on the dam bank.  This year, the routine has not established.  Their second appearance was two nights ago, again at dusk.

Finally, yesterday morning, the brood appeared again, this time led by only the male duck.  The nine ducklings were now eight ducklings.

male-Australian-Wood-Duck-with-eight-ducklings-in-long-grass
The male duck leads the brood of eight ducklings through the long grass edging the dam to the mowed section around the house.

 

I watched them walk up from the dam, through the long grass and onto the mowed section. The ducklings separated and excitedly pecked at the ground.

Australian-Wood-Ducklings-feeding-on-short-grass
The ducklings seem to prefer being on the short grass to feed. The other times we have sighted them were on the opposite side of the dam, where kangaroos keep the grass clipped.

I had time to take a couple of photographs before they grouped up and ran back to the dam in alarm.  The ducklings seemed to respond before the male duck was aware of any danger.  He did follow them, but they reacted both instantaneously and in unison. Their instincts obviously urge them to group together. Watching their response was like watching iron filings cling to a magnet – randomly placed pieces are drawn to a central point and suddenly aligned, almost as a single body.

Eight-ducklings-running-withheads-and-necks-in-alignment
In unison, the ducklings began running for the dam in alarm. The male duck followed, not far behind them.

 

Thirty seconds later, I saw what had spooked them – a fox.

fox-hunting-ducklings
The fox took me by surprise. I haven’t seen one here before. It didn’t hang around, so this was the only photo I took.

Foxes are feral animals in Australia, introduced in the 1830’s by European settlers.  They are responsible for killing so many of our native wildlife as well as raiding people’s poultry pens.   While I know they live in our area, I haven’t seen one on our land before – and so close to the house in broad daylight.. It’s worrying.

Seeing the fox, I now wonder if this explains the absence of the female Australian Wood Duck.  If so, I wonder about the chances of a single male duck being able to successfully defend eight ducklings.  So far, they haven’t returned to the dam – with good reason.  It’s frustrating not being able to do anything to defend the ducklings.  Foxes are just one of the hazards they face. Feral cats are another.. but that is a story for another post.

 Update:

The ducks have come back to the dam tonight (same day as I wrote this post).  I can still only see one parent – the male duck.  This time I could count six ducklings.  They were in the long grass and hard to see, so perhaps the other two were still there, but they may not have been.