By Eugene Dunphy
The mallard is the origin of almost all domesticated ducks, with many different breeds developed since the fourteenth century, when ducks began to be domesticated seriously in Europe for the first time. Some of the main breeds of duck kept for their eggs include Buff Orpington, the Campbell and the Welsh Harlequin; some of the main breeds kept for their meat include the Aylesbury, the Muscovy, the Duclair and the Silver Appleyard.
In the wild, the mallard will nest near the water in rough vegetation or in available nooks and crannies under rocks and trees, but in cities it is willing to adapt and use any suitable corner it can find. This regularly leads to the amusing spectacle of the mother duck leading her newly hatched ducklings across streets and roads to get to the nearest pond or water.
For example, for several years a female mallard regularly nested in the grounds of Leinster House in Dublin, and each year was escorted to safety by Gárdaí, who held up the traffic as she led her young to the pond in Stephen’s Green.
In some Irish tales the duck was said to be the first to announce the day. In Kerry it was said the fox and the duck had a competition to see who could announce the day first. The duck lay down, put his head under his wing and went to sleep.
The fox stayed up all night waiting quietly, and when morning came he called to the duck: ó lacha, lacha (o duck, duck). However, the duck woke up and immediately called out ‘Lá, Lá (day, day) in response. So the duck won, as he was still the first to announce the day.
A story from Scotland tells how Christ was hidden from his enemies by a good crofter under a heap of grain. Hens and ducks then came and fed on the grain. The duck trampled down the grain as it fed, but the hen scattered it about, thus revealing the hiding Christ. So the hen was condemned from then on to be confined to land, to dislike hail, rain, sleet or snow, to dread thunder, and to use only dust for her bath.
The duck, on the other hand, was blessed with the ability to swim, to bathe in water and to have a liking for all kinds of bad weather. Another version of this, also from Scotland, was that the duck was considered lucky because it sheltered Christ under straw when He was being pursued by his enemies.