On a recent visit to Mum’s Daintree property, we spent some time in the afternoon sitting in the bird hide next to the main wetland watching the radjah shelducks go about their business. One of them stood guard, standing on the edge of the water looking outwards, while the ducklings stayed hidden in some reeds. The other duck joined the first, and off they flew together. Parental abandonment! The ducklings stayed well hidden for the twenty minutes their parents were away – occasionally standing up and getting themselves re-seated more comfortably, but mostly being the most well-behaved ducklings you could hope for. Mum and I were most fascinated by this, and speculated how on earth the parents impress upon the ducklings the importance of not emerging from the reeds until their return. If my children were ducklings they would no doubt get themselves eaten by an eel the minute my back was turned.
The adults flew back in, and then both stood around as the ducklings tidily trotted down and stood in a line on the water’s edge, poking about and finding things to nibble on. The adults stood watch, and when a magpie goose came over to bother them – quite unnecessarily and rudely, we thought – they loudly yelled and moved the ducklings away swiftly to another area. This impressive work is no doubt why they still have seven ducklings of their original eight hatchlings.
Meanwhile the magpie geese goslings were far more undisciplined. The little threesome moved across the pond cheeping away constantly – looking far too big and ungainly to still be cheep-cheep-cheeping in such a babyish way – and the various adults that make up their family group followed them, a couple posted around on other banks and up trees as look-outs. The goslings seemed to tootle along in a very carefree manner, while the adults puttered after them making sure all was well. There was none of the attentive discipline of the shelduck family. The benefits of sharing childcare responsibilities in a large family group. Cheep-cheep-cheeping without a care in the world.
(Mum wrote about these birds in a much more well-informed way here, along with photos).