ANU: The dark side of ducks

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Spring isn’t all it’s quacked up to be. Pollen levels are high, magpies are terrorising cyclists and pedestrians alike, and protective duck parents are in attack mode.

Andrew Cockburn is an ornithologist from the Research School of Biology at The Australian National University (ANU). He says that male ducks are the ones most likely to hiss at or chase after people during spring.

“The males are the ones that we see getting aggressive this time of year. They are very protective over their mate, and especially their young.”

The Australian Wood Duck is one of the most common species found on the ANU campus. According to Cockburn, they form quite strong pair bonds, with males and females coupling up to breed and raise their young.

After the females have laid their eggs and incubated them in the cavities of trees, the hatchlings start their life with a daredevil dive to the ground.

Once the ducklings are out and about in the world, this is when their proud parents become menaces to unsuspecting passersby.

As ANU students will know firsthand, the campus ducks spend most of the year idly going about their business, but once the babies are out of the nest, even looking at a duck the wrong way can cause trouble.

“They are very, very defensive,” Cockburn says. “The males in particular take delight in attacking humans, or whatever moving object they regard as a threat to their ducklings.”

Cockburn’s advice for making it through spring without being chased (or waddled after) by a duck is simple.

“Just don’t hassle them,” he says.

“Ducks might seem frightening, but they are a thousand times less likely to cause damage than a swooping magpie.”

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