Ducklings in distress leave MPs in mourning

A family of ducks in distress caused a flap at Parliament on Saturday and brought an Underground railway line briefly to a stop when seven ducklings fell down a ventilation shaft.

The drama began when a mother duck who is fond of the handouts of animal-loving Members of Parliament set off across the House of Commons courtyard with seven young waddling in her wake.

But she unwisely led them across the grille of an Underground rail ventilation shaft and the whole brood slipped through the cracks, the London Fire Brigade said.

While the mother duck quacked frantically on the cobbled stones of the Carriage Gate entrance to Parliament, six firefighters rushed to the scene.

Police got a crane and lifted one of the grilles off, and a House of Commons window cleaner lowered himself down the shaft, said Fire Brigade Assistant Divisional Officer Graham Barber.

The window cleaner found three of the ducklings had perished in the 75-foot (25-meter) fall. But the four survivors wandered off onto a platform at Westminster Underground station, where trains were briefly brought to a standstill as officials of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals rounded them up.

"The survivors are quite healthy," said RSPCA ambulance driver Roy Blackburn. "Apparently ducks have been living in the House of Commons for 20 years."

During the drama, the mother duck disappeared.

"I think she flew back to St. James's Park," Barber said.

A parliamentary observer said Members of Parliament often brought in dry bread for the ducks "like kindergarten children," and would mourn their passing.

The ducks, often to be seen watering at the fountain, could bring parliamentary business in the courtyard to a stop by waddling in formation. MPs, and even the prime ministerial car, would stop to give the gaggle right of way.

The survivors would be cared for at Egham Swan Center in Surrey, the rescuers said.

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