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Could you champion the Abacot Ranger duck? - 26th March 2019

The Abacot Ranger is currently on the Watch list of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Do you keep them and are you willing to learn more about becoming the Breed Registrar? If so, please see our 'Duck Breeds Registrar Scheme' here.

The Abacot Ranger was one of many breeds developed from (or crossed with) Indian Runners, starting with 'sports' from Khaki Campbells. Originally called the 'Hooded Ranger', this breed almost died out in this country. Imported into Germany via Denmark in 1926, it was 'stabilized' as a colour form by H. Lieker, whence it acquired the name 'Liekers Streifere' (Lieker's Ranger or Scout). In 1934 it was eventually standardized under the name of Streicher-Ente (Ranger Duck). Later standardized by the Poultry Club and the BWA in 1987, the modern Abacot Ranger owes both its survival and written standard to the work done in Germany. Like other light ducks, this breed is lively and active and a good forager, and also a good egg layer, producing a reasonable sized egg.

Lively Abacot Ranger ducklings
Lively Abacot Ranger ducklings

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Egg development - 22nd March 2019

Do you candle your eggs? For a four-week incubation period this is roughly what you would expect to see. The heart is the first organ to develop, surrounded by a growing network of blood vessels. The weight of the developing egg decreases through evaporation by about 15% by hatching, so the air sac gets bigger. Some waterfowl eggs have thick shells and the detail is very difficult to see, but LED lights have made the process of candling much easier than it was in the past.

The ideal relative humidity for incubating most duck eggs is 55%. The temperature is usually 37.4°C. As the duckling develops there is a loss of water from the egg and the air sac gets bigger. In the normal development of an egg with a 28 day incubation, the air sac occupies about a third of it by 25 days. Cleanliness is vital and ideally eggs should be moved to a separate hatcher at this point, where the humidity should be increased to 65% and even higher once they have pipped internally.
Parent birds manage it so well! If you are new to wildfowl, you should check how long your species' incubation periods are, or you may get a surprise sooner than you expect…

The eggs of geese are more difficult to candle than those of ducks as the shells are much thicker. Artificial incubation is therefore harder to manage. The main problem is ensuring adequate water loss through them so that the air space is large enough that the gosling has enough room to manoeuvre into a hatching position. If too wet, the gosling is large, weak and floppy and often dies before hatching. The air space always seems to be amazingly (even alarmingly!) large in eggs incubated by a goose.
Rather than specify a particular humidity, it is probably more helpful to weigh the eggs and monitor how the weight loss progresses, aiming for at least 15% loss over the incubation period. Different incubator designs vary in their capacity to achieve this, but it would generally be necessary to have a lower humidity than for duck eggs, perhaps running the incubator completely dry. The humidity in the room is also going to affect evaporation through the shell.

Embryo development in a 28 day incubation period
Embryo development in a 28 day incubation period

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A duck without freckles is like a night without stars… - 16th March 2019

Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa are semi-tropical ducks and are Australia’s rarest waterfowl, fond of inland swamps. When these dry out in the summer months, the Freckled Ducks are forced to disperse towards coastal and subcoastal wetlands. They favour loafing amongst fallen timber in swamps. Sometimes, if there is a drought, there may be few of these wetlands available for them, so they may congregate into flocks on whatever wetlands are available, sometimes giving the impression that they are more common than they really are. They are stimulated to breed by rainfall and food availability. There was great excitement here about these ducks in the 1980s, when they were near-impossible to find. WWT Slimbridge is credited with having the first self-sustaining breeding population in Europe, and numbers have held strong since. A small handful of private breeders are successful with Frecs. These are pretty charismatic birds and can be challenging to rear so not really a beginner species. We recommend visiting a breeder and finding out about the life cycle and requirements before purchasing any new species. The difficulty of breeding is usually reflected in the purchase price!

Click the image to play a movie. A larger version of the movie (25.74MB) can be downloaded and played here.

Freckled Ducks
Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa

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Green is the new black - 11th March 2019

Black East Indian ducks being exhibited these days have amazing green iridescence. The very best show-winning birds frequently even have a green sheen under the wings. There is no hiding the heritage: impure birds can show a little brown pencilling under the wings and also on the throat. Even in pure birds, females tend to develop patches of white as they get older. Don't we all!

The iridescence comes from the way light is reflected from the structure of the feathers, rather than a pigment. The base colour of the Black East Indian is black. There is speculation that the extended black gene that this and the Cayuga share, may have arrived from a close relative of Mallard ducks; the American Black Duck Anas rubripes. This is the bold assertion of early historians of the Cayuga.

A stunning Black East Indian drake exhibited by James Eggins
A stunning Black East Indian drake exhibited by James Eggins

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Family Ties in our bird of the month - 9th March 2019

This Nene Goose family are very close. They hatched under the mother and both parents were very attentive. The three goslings are very much imprinted on their parents. Imprinting is a specialised form of learning that happens in very young birds so they develop a strong irreversible attachment to their parent(s). Imprinting is only possible during an extremely limited ”critical period” soon after hatching. This phenomenon has been closely studied in waterfowl, particularly since the work of Konrad Lorenz last century. While the process of imprinting has a huge effect on wild hatchling survival, getting captive wildfowl to imprint on us for our own pleasure is not necessarily the best approach to give them enriching lives. We gain their love and devotion, but at the expense of allowing them a natural relationship with one of their own kind. Imprinting affects different species in different ways.

A parent-reared group of Nene Geese, <em>Branta sandvicensis</em>
A parent-reared group of Nene Geese, Branta sandvicensis

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Swan Goose Anser cygnoides - 3rd March 2019

The Swan Goose Anser cygnoides, from Central Asia, is the ancestor of both African Geese and Chinese Geese. The painting by Carl Donner is of an African Goose, and appeared in the 1999 edition of British Waterfowl Standards - this and the current edition are available from the bookshop here. The breeds that originate in Europe are descended from the wild Greylag.

Swan Goose
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides

African Goose painting by Carl Donner
African Goose painting by Carl Donner

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Bird of the Month is the Nene Goose Branta sandvicensis - 1st March 2019

Bird of the Month is the Nene Goose Branta sandvicensis. Photo below by Phoebe Vaughan. This species captured public imagination when Sir Peter Scott spearheaded a captive breeding programme to save it. The world population had plummeted to fewer than 30 birds. Their offspring give pleasure to thousands of enthusiasts and prove that it is never too late to act!

Nene Goose and goslings
Nene Goose and goslings

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BWA AGM at Slimbridge - 23rd February 2019

A very successful AGM for us today and congratulations to Marie Zabell for winning the Wildfowl Achievement Award; Trudy Robertson for winning the Wildfowl Contribution Award; Margaret Richards for winning the Diamond Jubilee Award; Phoebe Vaughan for winning the Leslie Bonnet Award; and Oliver Crump (see photo below) for winning the Mike Griffiths Memorial Award. Thanks to Taiana Costa for the very informative talk “Healthy bird, happy bird”.

Oliver Crump
Congratulations to Oliver Crump - winner of the Mike Griffiths Award for Junior Exhibitor.

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