Before they start their new lives on the water, our Madagascar pochards will have to learn how to find food.
We want the birds to stay on Lake Sofia. If the ducks stray, no other site in the region will be able to support them, such is the degree to which Madagascar wetlands have been destroyed.
But natural food for Pochards will be in limited supply on the lake – probably insufficient to support the ducks – and will remain that way for five or more years until conservation measures take proper effect.
So we have to provide artificial food for the birds. In an aviary, that’s easy. Once the birds are on the lake, providing food for a bird that does not come ashore is a challenge.
The answer is Floating Feeding Stations which have been specifically designed to provide food to the released pochards who nearly exclusively feed underwater.
A small floating raft allows us to put food on. But that would be accessible to all the other ducks on the lake. So we will cover it with netting. The pochards can then dive underwater to get inside the enclosure, while excluding other birds looking for a free dinner.
The Floating Feeding Stations will be marked with black and white stripes – a visual cue that the pochard will be trained to recognise during rearing. From a very young age, the ducks will be exposed to the feeding stations so that they will associate them with a tasty meal.
Our experts are confident that this will work as they’ve tried and tested the method in captivity at Slimbridge with their close cousins, the Baer’s pochard.
Aviculturists, who will fill up the stations with supplies, will also use visual cues to reinforce their association for the initial years of the release. This will increase the chances of being able to feed the birds using alternative methods such as from the boat or from the shore in an emergency and also to recapture the birds, if needed.
Floating platforms will also be placed near the floating aviaries so the birds can rest without having to come ashore.
The future success of the Madagascar pochard in the wild depends on them staying and breeding on Lake Sofia. Hopefully training the birds to use these marvellous contraptions will keep the ducks nourished.