We have a rule of thumb at the MSPCA that the arrival of our first orphan duckling (usually a mallard) means that ‘baby bird season’ has started.

This year’s first ducking arrived last week, later than usual because of the terrible weather we’ve been enduring.

We think many struggling ducklings may simply have been caught up in flood waters and either drowned in fast-flowing streams and rivers, or disappeared into drains through open manhole covers.

Please don’t think that a lone duckling has been orphaned or abandoned – it’s likely that its parents and siblings will be close by, and the best course of action is to observe the young bird for as long as possible (ideally for at least an hour).

If it is in immediate danger from a predator or passing vehicles, carefully relocate it to a safe place nearby if possible. It is vital that the parents should still be able to see and hear their offspring.

However, if the duckling is clearly injured it will need to be taken to a vet for treatment, where it will be treated free of charge.

When uninjured ducklings arrive at Ard Jerkyll they are kept in heated incubators and although they can swim from day one of hatching they are at risk of drowning, and so they have to be supervised when they swim.

The rest of the time they have a bowl of very shallow water to drink from. When they are old enough they are moved to the outdoor aviary pens where they can develop their swimming skills in large water troughs before being released back into the wild.

It's a sad reality that the majority of ducklings that hatch in the wild die during their first few days of life, either because of bad weather or because they are predated (two surviving out of a brood of eight is good going). They are a valuable part of the wildlife food chain, albeit they’re near the bottom and so they are prey for larger birds and mammals such as rats and pole cats.

Thankfully, ducklings do well when they are reared in captivity, not least because they are fairly self-sufficient as soon as they hatch (i.e. they are precocial, which means they are well developed when they emerge from their egg).

However, other species of bird are more of a challenge because they need regular hand-feeding. Members of staff take these birds home with them so that they can be fed from dawn until dusk, as they would have been by their parents and we are given invaluable support by the Manx Wild Bird Aid to help us to do this.

Back to ducklings: those that survive their first few days in the wild stay with their mother for between 50 and 60 days, giving her the task of trying to keep them safe alongside teaching them how to forage (she may call up to 200 times a minute in an effort to keep her highly mobile offspring in check).

This follows the prodigious effort of laying and incubating eggs, which take about 28 days to hatch. During this time the female duck sits in her nest for more than 23 hours a day, with only two short breaks – usually one before 9am and the other after 4pm. She will have plucked downy feathers from her breast to create and ‘incubation patch’ so that she can keep the eggs close to her skin, at a steady 37.5 degrees; and every half an hour or so, day and night, she shifts position to ensure that all her eggs are covered.

A female duck’s maternal instincts are second-to-none, which makes it all the more curious that they often take their brood on perilous journeys – heightening the chances of mishap. But unlike some of its cousins, the mallard is not a species in decline and a sufficient number of ducklings survive into adulthood to keep the population stable.