herald

Saturday 18 August 2018

There once was a lucky duckling

When emma's brother found an egg the family got busy to try and find a way to hatch it out

Owner: emma nolan, aged 11, from bray, co wicklow

Pet: corky, her newly hatched duckling

Background: emma's family incubated an egg that they found

When out on a walk in a local field, Emma's brother Daniel and cousin Hannah found an egg. They carefully carried it home and there was a family debate about the best thing to do with it.

It was the size of a small hen's egg. It had been found several hundred yards away from a river, with no sign of any nest or adult birds nearby. The best guess was that it was a duck egg that had been stolen from a nest by a fox, then dropped. The Nolans realised that there might be a live embryo inside the egg, and they couldn't bring themselves to discard it, so they did some research.



batch

They discovered was that eggs naturally remain in a stage of "suspended animation" for a few weeks after being laid as a duck waits until she has laid a decent batch before she goes broody and starts to sit on them. The embryos inside the eggs only start to develop once they're warmed up by their mother's body heat. This ensures that all the eggs develop together, hatching out on the same day three or four weeks later. So even if the mystery egg had been away from its mother for three or four days, it could still hatch.

A friend loaned them an incubator designed for hatching hens' eggs. This looks a bit like a baby's bottle warmer; the egg sits inside it, kept at a steady temperature, with carefully controlled humidity. Emma had to turn the egg a couple of times every day, mimicking what a mother duck would do in her nest.

The Nolans also learned that you could "candle" an egg to discover if it's developing properly. This involves holding a bright light behind it so that you can see the silhouette of the egg's contents. To their excitement they could see a shape that suggested that a new duckling was beginning to form. Ducks' eggs hatch after 28 days of incubation, so the countdown began.



sceptical

Emma's Dad was quite sceptical about the chances of success, laying a bet that the egg wouldn't hatch. Ironically, he was the one to witness Corky's arrival. He heard a cheeping noise from the incubator and there was Corky, sitting upright and bright-eyed beside the shell of her egg.

It's too early to be sure, but it seems most likely that Corky is a mallard duck. Ducklings form a bond with the first creatures that they encounter, so Corky now sees herself as a part of the Nolan family: Emma is her big sister, Daniel and Peter are her big brothers and Hannah is her cousin.

She's being fed on poultry crumbs for ducklings, and she's getting bigger as every day passes. What will happen to her eventually? Emma doesn't think there'll be space in their back garden for a duck, so Corky may need to find a home with a duck pond and some of her own species. In the meantime, it looks as if Emma's going to have a busy summer holiday looking after a very special duckling.

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