A couple who hand-reared a day-old duckling before releasing her to the wild were left stunned when she returned to their home six months later with 11 chicks.
Phil Garner, 67, took the tiny mallard under his wing after finding her abandoned on a fishing lake, before bringing her back to his wife Julia Garner, 66, in his coat pocket.
The ex-freight train driver said the bird, who they named Freda, was partially potty trained after she came to live in their three-bed house in April 2021.
And the couple even took turns sleeping by the “demanding” bird’s bed while feeding her on a £40 ($51) diet of grubs until she flew the nest last October.
But they were amazed when she then re-appeared on their doorstep in April with a male “boyfriend” duck who they nicknamed Fred.
A few months later, they spotted her coming up their drive with her newly hatched brood of ducklings, who have now once again taken up residence in their garden.
Phil said: “Going from one duckling to 11 was chaos. It was like, ‘What do you do with this lot?’ They’re now eight inches long and as fat as butter – fluffy, very fluffy.
“They need to swim, they need to wash themselves. So we’ve got tubs everywhere. The garden looks like a bomb site, but I’m not bothered.
“It was a bit sad when Freda first went, but at the same time, it was a bit of a relief because she was hard work, very demanding. It was a double-edged sword.
“But in the back of my mind, I was expecting her to come back because we were told that they imprint on you for life.”
Julia said her husband of 16 years was undergoing agonizing treatment for bladder cancer when he first came across Freda.
And she now considers the duck Phil’s “guardian angel” as he was able to focus his energy on caring for her during that difficult period.
She said: “I wasn’t right keen on my home becoming a duck sanctuary at first, but we all adapt.
“And that year, Phil had three operations for cancer and 15 follow-ups. It’s been a tough time for him, and in some ways, Freda helped him through it.
“So she was like his guardian angel. I think she was sent for a purpose.”
Phil said he’d been fishing with his son close to their home in Allerton Bywater, near Leeds, England, on April 1, 2021, when the tiny duck first scuttled up towards them.
They tried for hours to find her parents before the grandad of seven took her home after the fishery manager said she would perish if left in the wild.
Phil said: “It was freezing cold that day and there was no sign of the mum.
“The bloke said: ‘If you leave her here, she’s going to die’. So we brought her home and we thought, ‘What do you do with a day-old duckling?’
Phil nursed the chick back to full strength in the comfort of the warm home with Julia’s help – letting Freda roam around their front room, kitchen and garden.
They also allowed her to swim in a fiberglass pond they’d bought for goldfish and it wasn’t long before she formed a bond with her rescuers.
Phil said: “She’d either sleep in a box, by your feet or under the coffee table.
“But one of us had to sleep downstairs otherwise she started screeching and crying. We house-trained her to use towels.
“She would sit on my shoulder and on my table while I was doing my computer work. She was that loving.”
Phil said Freda had suddenly left their home in autumn last year after spending a few weeks “screeching” at other ducks she could hear on a local lake.
And the couple believed that was the last they’d seen of her until she walked up their drive again on April 3 this year with her boyfriend Fred.
Phil said the love birds had spent a few months together before Freda suddenly disappeared, leaving her “forlorn” partner to fly away without her.
But she emerged from a neighbor’s lavender bush two days later with a posy of tiny ducklings, which are now living in Phil and Julia’s garden.
Phil said: “We looked out the front window one morning and saw the little ducklings waddling towards us. They’ve stopped here ever since.
“We allow them in the fish pond in the front garden, but we’ve dug a separate pond in the back and feed them on cornmeal, worms, maggots and Weetabix.
“You’ll hear them going ‘cheep, cheep’ when they want to eat or if the mother disappears, but they’re pretty quiet.”
Phil expects the ducks to stay with them for a few more months but is prepared to rehome them on a nearby pond if they don’t go back into the wild.
He added: “We expect her to fly off and go back to where she was before, and the ducklings will just follow her and do their own thing.
“If not, there’s a good local fishing pool near us that’s got a fence all the way around it, which will keep out the foxes.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Saba Fatima and Asad Ali