Duck, the Common Wild, or Anas boschas, L. an aquatic fowl, from which the common tame sorts derive their origin.
This bird frequents the lakes of different countries, and feeds upon frogs and several sorts of insects. - The wild-ducks pair in the spring; build their nests among rushes near the water, and lay from ten to sixteen eggs. The mallard, or drake, though it varies in colours, always retains the curled feathers of the tail, and both sexes the form of the bill.
Wild-ducks abound particularly in Lincolnshire, where great numbers are taken annually in the decoys, which, in that county, are commonly set at a certain rent, from 5 to 20l. a year; and there is a decoy in Somersetshire, which is rented at 30l. The birds of the former county principally contribute to the supply of the London markets; as surprizing numbers of clucks, widgeons, etc. are annually taken.
The situation proper for a decoy, should be chosen, where there is a large pond surrounded with wood, in a marshy and uncultivated country. As soon as the evening sets in, the decoy rises, as it is termed, and the wild-fowl feed during the night. This rising is, in Somersetshire, called roading. - The de coy-ducks are fed with hemp-seed which is thrown over the screens in small quantities, to bring then forwards into the pipes or canals and to allure the wild-fowl to follow ; this seed being so light as to float.
There are several pipes that lead up a narrow ditch, at the extremity of which is a funnel-net. Over these pipes (which are narrower from their first entrance), is a continued arch of netting suspended on hoops. It is necessary to have a pipe or ditch for almost every wind that may blow ; as it depends upon this circumstance to which pipe the birds will resort ; and the decoy-man always keeps on the leeward side of the ducks, to prevent his effluvia reaching their sagacious nostrils. Along each pipe, at certain intervals, are placed skreens constructed of reeds, which are so arranged, that it is impossible the wild-fowl should see the decoy-man, before they have passed towards the end of the pipe, where the purse-net is placed. The wild-fowl are induced to go up one of these pipes, because the decoy-ducks, trained to this, lead the way, either after hearing the whistle of the decoy-man, or being enticed by the hemp-seed ; they will then dive under water, while the wild-fowl fly on, and are taken in the purse.
It often happens, however, that the wild-birds are in such a lethargic state, that they will not follow the decoy-ducks. Recourse is then generally had to a dog trained for the purpose : he passes backwards and forwards between the reed-skreens; this attracts the eye of the wild-fowl, and they advance towards the animal to drive him away. At length, the decoy-man appears behind a skreen, and the wild-birds, not daring to pass by him in return, nor being able to effect their escape upwards, on account of the net-covering, rush on into the purse-net.
The general season for catching fowls in decoys, is from the latter end of October till February : the taking of them earlier is prohibited by an act 10 Geo. II. c. 32, which forbids it from June the 1st to October the 1st, under the penalty of 5s. for each bird destroyed within that period.
Tame ducks are very useful for destroying the black caterpillars, snails, or slugs, which infest turnip fields: hence, if they are turned into such fields, they will devour all the insects, and do no injury to the crop.
It is remarkable, that ducks are extremely fond of the entrails of other animals, and almost every kind of tilth. Hence their flesh, though much relished by the epicure, is of a strong, alkaline flavour, and not easy of digestion. Those who are afflicted with ulcers, or cutaneous eruptions, as well as invalids and convalescents who are liable to eructations, ought carefully to abstain from this enticing, but hurtful food. If a small quantity of a roasted duck must nevertheless be eaten, it ought to be mixed, during mastication, with a considerable proportion of toasted bread, or biscuits, to absorb and sheath the acrimony which it contains. It is, however, equally absurd and injurious to take drams of spirituous liquors after eating such meat; for, instead of assisting the digestive organs, this momentary Stimulus cannot fail ultimately to relax them: hence drinking-should for a few minutes be delayed, and afterwards water or beer may be used, in very small draughts, which will not inundate and weaken the stomach.