IT MAY feel bitterly cold out there now, but a few weeks ago it was unseasonably warm for the time of year.
That led to a very unusual early arrival of some adorable ducklings – four months ahead of when they would normally be expected to be born.
The little family were living happily near the Mill Pond, in Emsworth, when tragedy struck.
Their mother and three of their siblings were run over by a car.
The remaining eight were rescued by a wildlife-lover and taken to a veterinary surgery in Horsham, who contacted Tarnya Knight, a local wildlife carer who works for the Born Free Foundation.
Tarnya will now look after the mini-mallards until the spring.
She said: ‘Normally you wouldn’t see ducklings until around April, but due to the unusually warm weather this little brood has hatched early.
‘Depending on how cold it is outside, I’ll keep them indoors for a few weeks and then they’ll be moved to a duck pen outside where they will stay until they are old enough to fend for themselves.’
The eight ducklings have affectionately been nicknamed Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy, after the family members from American sitcom The Brady Bunch.
Tarnya added: ‘Despite their sad start to life, these little ones are actually very lucky to have been brought to safety.
‘By the time spring arrives officially, they will be ready to be released back into the wild.’
December was one of the warmest on record and led to daffodils blooming months earlier than usual.
The average temperature of 10.6C would usually not be seen until May.
Born Free Foundation Programmes Officer Laura Gosset said: ‘There are many factors that affect when our wild neighbours start to nest and breed each year, including day length, temperature and the availability of food.
‘This winter has been unusually warm and as a result flowers have started to bloom and wildlife has started to breed far earlier than normal.
‘The danger is of course when a cold snap is predicted, will the early arrivals survive?’
For more information about the Born Free Foundation and its work with UK and international wildlife, visit bornfree.org.uk