It would surely be easy to catch a duck who could only hobble - Julian Norton

Julian Norton went in search of a lame duck this week
Julian Norton went in search of a lame duck this week
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Social media can be a great thing, but at times it is exactly the opposite – antisocial media.

However, last Saturday it came into its own, as it alerted the animal-loving public (and any off-duty vets in the Thirsk area) to the plight of a duck.

A female mallard had been spotted on the banks of Cod beck near the middle of town, struggling with a fishing line around its leg. I’d just got home and spotted the message on my phone, so called Archie, my youngest son, and we set off, armed with scissors, other cutting implements and some bread-for-tempting.

“Don’t we need a net?” asked Archie, helpfully.

Maybe we did, but I didn’t have one. And anyway, I’d done this sort of thing before. In theory, at least, I knew what to do – identify the patient, catch the duck, remove the fishing line.

It would surely be easy to spot a lame duck, so to speak.

It would surely also be easy to catch a duck who could only hobble. We’d grab it, before it could jump into the river or take to the air. If the duck left terra firma, we had definitely lost our advantage.

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The first time I tried to catch a duck was in exactly the same place. A member of the public had called the surgery because he had seen something dangling from the back of the duck.

It turned out to be the genitalia, inflamed and swollen, but not in need of any veterinary treatment. Being submerged in cold water was the best cure. This was lucky because there was plenty of cold water to hand and also because the duck proved impossible to catch.

The next time my waterfowl-catching skills were called into action was to aid a swan. This bird, like today’s patient, also had a problem with her leg. Remarkably, the swan and her mate had called at the nearest house to their lake and knocked on the door! The birds were clearly asking for help as the female was suffering with a fishing hook in her leg.

On that dark, winter’s evening almost three years ago, the capture had been hugely successful. Our heroic veterinary nurse, Sarah, had leapt into the inky lake and grabbed the swan. The fishhook was easily removed, back at the practice safely under general anaesthetic. We kept the swan in the kennels overnight and returned the bird to the lake and to its mate first thing the following morning.

The early morning mist floated above the surface of the lake, just like something from the tales of King Arthur. There was no sign of the mate and we worried he might have flown away, traumatised by the nocturnal kidnap of his mate.

But he hadn’t. Within just a few moments, he appeared out of the mist and the two swans entwined their necks in a romantic embrace, before floating off together.

But there was no such happy outcome on the banks of Cod beck this afternoon. The affected duck was nowhere to be seen.

“Some ducks went that way,” a helpful dog walker commented, pointing upstream. We headed in that direction, on another wild duck chase. We found one, sitting near the water’s edge, with its feet under water. It was not moving much and it looked gloomy. Archie made an attempt to grab it. Bad luck again and the duck swam away.

“If one of the legs is tied up, then it will surely swim in circles?” Archie suggested. This one went in a straight line and so did all the others. Gloomily, after almost an hour of searching, we gave up, and ate what was left of the bread. The duck would have to take her chance!