Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Smudge the Little White Duck: Smudge and the fat ball

white duck feeding on fat ball
Smudge steals the fat ball while her mate stands guard.
Source: Photography by AnnMackieMiller: copyright 2011

A Fowl Tale about Smudge the Little White Duck and the Fat Ball

Some of you have met Smudge before. She is a little white mallard duck with a single smudge of black on the top of her head. This photo journal is a delightful story of one resourceful little white duck. Smudge is a common resident down on the canal and here she is caught red-beaked pinching the fat ball left out for garden birds. Smudge the little white duck who steals fat balls Smudge is a white mallard duck who lives on the Leeds to Liverpool canal near Bingley West Yorkshire. She features in several photo journals but here I wanted to share one particular story when this little duck was spotted stealing a fat ball that had been put out for the garden birds. According to all the books, mallard ducks don't mate for life but Smudge has a mate, a male mallard who is recognisable by the fact he has no white ring around the neck. That doesn't stop other male mallards from trying to mate with her during the breeding season or of her mate trying it on with other females, but these two are usually seen together - even when she has chicks with her, highly unusual in the mallard world. So it was no surprise to see them together on this particular afternoon - what was a surprise was that Smudge had managed to get into a garden of a house bordering the canal, and she was stealing the fat ball while the male watched - for all the world it looked as if he was keeping guard but he was probably hoping for some crumbs.

Duck caught red-beaked!

white female mallard duck and male mallard
Smudge is getting the hang of it while her mate looks on admiringly.
When you are birdwatching one thing you look out for is movement in bushes and trees. Walking along the canal on the tow path opposite some houses I first spotted some bushes moving, so obviously I stopped to see what was there. Up popped a little white head and I saw Smudge reaching up to her full height. The male was a bit obscured by the little fence, as if he was watching out for anyone coming out of the house. At first I couldn't make out what she was doing and it was only when I looked through my zoom lens that I saw she was after the fat ball the householder had put out for the garden birds. She had to reach really high to get to it but I guess it was worth it.
white female mallard duck with male mallard
White female mallard duck with male mallard
note how he is missing the usual white ring around the neck

white duck eating fat ball
White mallard duck

white female mallard duck with male mallard
Smudge learns to use her weight to pull down the netting

Smudge creating a hole in the net

Information about white mallard ducks

Smudge is a white mallard duck. White mallards are not uncommon. It is thought that they are the result of centuries of cross-breeding with domestic white ducks like Call Ducks. Certainly, in recent years we have seen several being born; one little white duck that featured in my Snuggly Ducklings stories as Goldie, herself had seven yellow ducklings due to turn into white ducks. Only two survived but a yellow duckling from another brood did survive and we now have five white mallards on this part of the canal.
In the last two years Smudge has produced two broods each year. Last year she actually abandoned the four ducklings that survived from her first brood - this is really much more common that we realised before. It happens when the females are mated again and produce eggs. Smudge's second brood didn't hatch and she was seen to 'steal' another female's ducklings. Eventually the two female came to an agreement and they could both be seen looking after the duckling until they were old enough to go off on their own. This year, she had two broods but none of them have survived. The canal attracts grey herons and is inhabited with pikes so this year mallard ducklings have had a particularly hard time.
White mallards are relatively common and I can't make up my mind if they are hybrids or are simply leucistic - that is birds with a pigment disorder, not albino but similar.

She is one of my favourite characters along the canal so look out for more of her fowl tales. 
Smudge is available on prints and cards from Zazzle


  1. Smudge is adorable and I loved reading about her antics with the fat ball! She is a resourceful duck ! Lovely with her mate looking on, maybe on look out, but as you say probably hoping for a few crumbs. I don't know if she was sharing though ! Smudge does look a real character.

  2. I didn't know about white Mallards!! I love these photos!

  3. thanks Pat - she is one of my favourite characters on the canal.