CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 19



Duck decoys: stars of the pond landscape
How the decoy operated
Decoys worked by encouraging ducks to enter a
pipe and swim along it until they reached a point
where their retreat to the safety of the pond could
be cut off, and they would then be driven into the
tunnel net.
Swimming ducks on open water react to a
predator on the water’s edge by moving towards
it but maintaining a safe distance. If the predator
moves along the edge, the ducks will follow it,
remaining at the same safe distance. This activity
is seen in reaction to Foxes, and to other possible
predators, including dogs, and has been made use
of in the practice of ‘dogging’ a decoy – training a
dog to attract birds into a pipe. Various dog breeds
have been used for this purpose, the Dutch Kooikerhondje being bred specifically to work decoys.
When the decoyman was sure that ducks were
present close to a pipe entrance, he sent his dog
to jump over the first leap and run along the first
screen, then disappear behind it, this being repeated
a couple of times. The sudden appearance and
disappearance of the dog attracted the curiosity of
the ducks, which swam towards it to investigate.
The decoyman, out of sight behind the screens,
then moved quietly forwards, sending the dog to
run around the next screen. This was repeated
screen by screen along the pipe, drawing the birds
down under the net.
When the ducks had moved well into the pipe,
the decoyman returned to the entrance, revealing
his presence. This drove the birds down the pipe
into the tunnel net; they were unable to detect the
closed end because of the curve of the pipe. Trapped
in the purse, the ducks were killed and extracted.
An alternative to dogging a decoy was that of
feeding. A few tame ducks were kept on the decoy
to attract wild ducks wary of a totally empty
pond. Grain, hemp seed or potatoes were fed on
to the pond during the day. When sufficient wild
ducks were present, the decoyman, hidden behind
the screens, walked away from the pond towards
the pipe end, throwing grain over the top of each
screen, drawing the tame and wild birds. Again, at
the point where the retreat of the birds could be
barred, he revealed his presence, frightening them
into the purse.
Decoy records show a constant pattern of
catches: the most frequent ducks caught were
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos and Teal A. crecca, the
most numerous species in winter, when trapping
occurred. Only Mallard were seen as ‘full ducks’,
other species being counted as ‘half ducks’. Pintail
An illustration of a decoy, with the decoyman using a dog to entice the birds into the net. From Payne-Gallwey (1886)
February 2016 British Wildlife 165
BWM27_3 04 duck decoys.indd 165
29/01/2016 12:55

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