The Regent's Park's ornamental waterfowl collection was started in the 1930s and was expanded, particularly during the 1970s and 80s, to exceed ninety species of swans, geese and ducks.
The collection was restricted to the north-east arm of the lake at Longbridge, the western arm at Hanover Bridge and on the lake in Queen Mary's Gardens and in recent years the collection has extended to include the Boating Lake.
Certain species of waterfowl were originally kept in small pens, either because they were aggressive species or because they were similar to other species and were penned to prevent hybridisation.
In the late 1980s, The Regent's Park became the centre for waterfowl breeding for The Royal Parks. An important part of its role is to maintain and supply collections in other Royal Parks and introduce new species and bloodlines to maintain healthy populations.
To facilitate this role, a Nature Study Centre was built. This is where the eggs, collected from the surrounding nest boxes and vegetation, are hatched and the chicks reared. Once they are fully-grown, contact is made with waterfowl breeders around the country and any birds that are not required within the Parks are then exchanged to meet the requirements of the Parks as a whole.
There are more than 650 waterfowl on the Boating Lake, including 260 pairs of ducks, many of which come from the Waterfowl Breeding Centre in the park, established in 1994 to breed waterfowl for all eight Royal Parks. Occasionally the Centre swaps successfully reared birds with other parks around the country. Ducks are easily disturbed when breeding, and for this reason we cannot open the centre to the public; but the centre's successes can be enjoyed by all as they bob and splash about on the lake.
The best time to visit and see the wide range of species and subtle differences is when the drakes are in their breeding plumage between November and April. The rest of the year they tend to more closely resemble the females of the species. This is so that they are not so obvious when rearing young or they become flightless for a short period when they moult.
Never leave food on the ground as this encourages vermin and pest species that could prey on the birds or their eggs. Uneaten food in the water will go bad and can lead to diseases.