Mallards make the most of the urban lifestyle

A A A

The Great British pastime of feeding the birds has been responsible for a trebling of the number of mallards during the past 25 years.

The Great British pastime of feeding the birds has been responsible for a trebling of the number of mallards during the past 25 years.

Mallards have for some time been the most abundant duck in Britain but a new survey by the British Trust for Ornithology has found them to be the fastest-breeding wetland bird in the country.

Much of the rise has been among domesticated mallards, the kind that feast on bread crusts offered to them in urban parks up and down the country. The increase has surprised experts at the trust because the winter population of mallards has been falling, possibly because global warming is encouraging more birds to stay year-round in the Baltic, Scandinavia and Russia.

Despite the drop in the winter population of about one third, the estimated number of mallards in the country as a whole is about 500,000, an increase of 190 per cent from 1975 to 1999.

Much of that was accounted for by the strength of the tame mallard population often found in urban areas, said John Marchant, a team leader in the trust's census unit.

"We are finding that there are more breeding birds along waterways and it is the tame birds that are accounting for much of the large population and the increase.

"We don't really know for sure why it is happening but it could be that there is more food and less predators and the birds are more prepared to nest close to human habitation," he said.

Other birds flourishing, according to the survey, included the mute swan, which is also tame and well fed in public parks. Its numbers have grown by 76 per cent since 1975, marking a remarkable recovery from the 1960s, when the population fell drastically. The drop was blamed on lead poisoning caused by the swans eating lead shot used by anglers. The swan picked it up when gathering grit to grind their food.

"There was a reduction in the population because large numbers were being poisoned by picking up lead weights, which made them ill and unable to eat properly. But lead has now been banned for 10 years and we are seeing a return in the mute swan population," Mr Marchant said.

The Waterways Bird Survey included birds that were not picked up by other surveys. Species it found to be thriving included the oystercatcher, whose numbers have risen by 110 per cent, the coot, which has gone up by 61 per cent, the curlew, up 72 per cent, and the reed warbler, up 79 per cent.

Others were not faring so well. Numbers of the reed bunting had fallen by 68 per cent, the little grebe by 57 per cent, the pied wagtail by 48 per cent, the grey wagtail by 42 per cent and the common sandpiper by 18 per cent.

The survey found a slight increase in the number of lapwings, a bird that has been under pressure because the growth of intensive farming is depriving it of its ideal habitats.

Mr Marchant said, however, that the survey results were not good news for the species, because although there might have been an increase over 25 years, the decline of the lapwing over the past five or 10 years had been "disastrous".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent