For those watching from Barrack Street Bridge, on Thursday evening, the action was all on the left bank of The Maine – and there was a bit of quack involved.
John Skevena O’Sullivan, accompanied by Joe Herlihy and David Dauber Prendiville and a little army of local children were to the fore in the operation. Between them they freed the latest batch of 50 hardy ducks and the odd drake into their new home in the River Maine.
They hit the water with great enthusiasm and gave full vent to the old ‘Ducks-to-Water’ proverb with a display of ducking and diving and delighting their audience.
John had been looking after them at home until they were strong enough to take on the rigours of life on the river and all its dangers.
The former publican has been involved in the river population of the Mallard variety since he first introduced the breed to the area in 2000.
There have been times when the exercise seemed futile; it was often frustrated by the high but natural duckling mortality rates along the town stretch. An explosion of the Mink population here over the past decade or more did the devil with the hatches.
The ducklings are always at the mercy of Grey Crows and Magpies and every other predator of that nature. As if that wasn’t enough, John got reports of gun dogs running amok among the young hatches a few years ago.
As Thursday evening’s release was taking place he asked again that local dog owners would give a bit of consideration to the ducks. He also stressed that dogs should be kept under control while they’re in the vicinity of the area of the river inhabited by the ducks.
Well looked after ducks can live for about 20 years it seems and the world record for this particular is held by a drake which nearly saw his 40th birthday.
Only half of their brains switch off while they sleep and the ones on the edge of a sleeping brood sleep with one eye open. They can react to a threat from predators in a fraction of a second.
I’ve had a love of ducks all my life. As a child I remember giving my grandmother’s ducks a feed of porter with their crushed oats one evening. It changed their personalities completely. There was a frightful racket in their little house and I had to leave them off as they would have drawn attention to the secret ingredient in their high tea.
A drake headed off up the acre with his beak pointing straight at the sky over him. The local fox was lucky he didn’t come a-hunting that evening. My marching drake eventually stood on his own webbed foot and fell in a heap. It was one of my early lessons on the power of porter – a phenomenon I’ve come to understand in my own adult life.