by Kathy James


One week ago I was presented with a tiny mallard duckling that had been abandoned by his mother. He had been left outside over night in case his mother returned, but she did not show. As I arrived for work that morning, my eyes lit up as I was first introduced to my ‘little man’. David (fellow warden at Cemlyn) said “I think it’s a boy…let’s call him Orphan”. And so a few brain flashes later he was named Orville.

I knew nothing about rearing ducklings, but realised he needed warmth and food. I fashioned a ‘mobile nest’ out of my binoculars case, tissue and grass so that this precious little bird could come around with me on my morning survey whilst I worked out what to do. I text my good friend Sam whose mother keeps ducks and chickens and asked for her advice on what to feed him. Following her instructions I fed Orville firstly on boiled egg and mashed veg that I had in the house and soon went to buy him a dedicated duckling crumb.

Not living in my own house, I was very limited as to where I could keep him and his young age meant he needed my undivided attention throughout the day if he was to avoid being squashed or predated. This was no problem, I was already in love. Orville went everywhere I went, even to the loo! I tried giving him his independence and putting him in a box with a hot water bottle on top, but he would squawk as I left the room and not be content until I whistled back at him or returned. By now, I was Mum.

Some may frown about how I have anthropomorphised this wild duckling, however the simple fact is that I am a human and I am a woman. My maternal instincts took over, he was my little man.

On Tuesday, Orville became inexplicably weak. I could see him fading and was powerless to help him. I knew nothing better to do than to place him on my chest next to my heartbeat as he passed away.


We buried Orville at “Uncle Ken’s”. A peaceful place where I can think of him resting his beautiful weary body.

Night feeds as well as constant warmth and attention had given me a bond with this duck that six days of knowing cannot account for.  I keep hearing his calls, the contented purr, the merry cheap and the don’t you dare leave me by myself squawk. I keep assessing the place I am sat for its suitability for him to run around. I wonder whether he’d like to try this food or that. It’s not easy to shake these instincts.

I do not know why Orville passed away, but he seemed like a happy little fellow to me. He seemed to relish my spidery house and the mischief he could make there. The way he’d instantly snooze when you held his tiny body in your clasped hands must surely be a sign of contentedness..?

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I wish with all my heart that this introduction to Orville was not also his obituary.

A sobbing, Kathy xxxxx

6 responses

  1. Kathy, it’s heart-breaking. You can be hard as you like, saying ‘Nature red in tooth ‘n claw’, but when it comes to the one chick, your night-nursed orphan mallard chick, you just weep.

    June 22, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    • Absolutely! That’s precisely why I won’t apologise for caring more than perhaps people might think I aught to. It’s a natural feeling to want to protect. Thanks for the support! x

      July 2, 2012 at 11:03 am

  2. Deepest sympathy, Kathy – anyone who has loved an animal and cared for them and lost them will feel for you in your loss.

    You did not anthropomorphise anything – in order to place the lives of any young creature ahead of ours and care for them, we MUST feel like that – call it an evolutionary device, if you will – but it makes the endless hours devoted to tiny persons learning small new things a happiness not a chore – and without it surely we would still be in the primordial ooze or somewhere near!

    June 25, 2012 at 7:14 am

    • Hi Pat,

      Thank you for the reassurance. It means a lot.

      I’m sure it’s something that I won’t hesitate to do again if i’m needed.

      Hope you’re well x

      July 2, 2012 at 10:51 am

  3. John W

    Hello Kathy
    It was a pleasure to meet you at Cemlyn after finishing my trip there on Saturday(?), I am glad to hear you enjoy the place so much.
    We often use the bay to launch on our trips to the Skerries and such like. Perhaps we will see you again on our next one.

    All the best


    P.S. Sorry to read about Orville.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your kind thoughts about Orville.

      I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to post the interview of you. My blog doesn’t currently accept videos and I think that the internet connection here is too slow to upload to facebook.

      Hope all is well since your return!

      Kathy x

      July 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

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