Thursday, 3 September 2009

Our Population of Ruddy Ducks

A bit parky at Arrow Valley this morning and, look, the leaves are turning. Brr! I should be heading south again.

The lake held the usual suspects: swans, mallards, great crested grebes, herons, coots, moorhens, greylag geese, Canada geese. So, I got to thinking about ruddy ducks, not that I've ever seen one in Redditch. No, over breakfast I'd read a story in Scribble that opened with ruddy ducks quacking. Had I ever heard a ruddy duck quack? I didn't think so. I'd heard them doing that chest-thumping thang but... quacking?

I checked my Collins Bird Guide which states that they are mainly silent. I thought so. Brownie points for me.

Still I kept thinking about them. Ruddy ducks used to be regular at Upton Warren but my last sighting was over a year ago. I know Defra are shooting them because of their threat to an endangered cousin, the white-headed duck. Doesn't this rather lower the conservation morality to the huntin’-shootin’n’fishin’ level?

It’s one of those dilemmas and, what's more, it begs the question posed by a deeper dilemma. Should we even be removing the duck? The killing fraternity likes to argue from the basic stance of controlling pests, regardless of the method. Pest is one of those words, like weed, that we conveniently apply to what we find inconvenient, like a duck that's outside its known historical range.

Known to us, that is, and in our time frame. Ruddies threaten the white-headed by breeding with them and producing impure offspring. Doesn't this suggest that the two ducks are so close genetically that we may be witnessing speciation in progress? And how many times has speciation been interrupted by outside events pushing the diverging populations back together again?

In a way it hardly matters whether the ruddy ought to be here or not. We've changed the environment so much in the last couple of thousand years that it’s hard to say what should be and what shouldn't. Maybe we should examine our relationship with the word “should”.

So, philosophically, should I head south?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License

This work by Andy Gibb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. It also uses Google Analytics and so creates tracking cookies and collects non-identifiable data about you.