IT started as a family day out but it ended in horror for one mother duck. These startling pictures show the moments when a hungry heron swooped and swallowed two of her baby chicks after a mother duck brought the newborns for their first swim.
She could only watch helplessly as the large grey heron swooped down and plucked one of her babies from the water.
The tufted duck mum was trying to shepherd her day-old brood to safety when the heron attacked in Dublin's Herbert Park.
Desperately, she beckoned her eight tiny chicks with loud quacks to follow her to the safety of an island in the park pond but they were too small to scale the ledge.
Realising she could not find safety there, she guided them back onto the water but the heron spotted them, and within minutes, had taken and eaten its first chick. It grabbed the fluffy bird by his feet before snapping it up in his powerful bill and swallowing it.
The distressed mother duck quacked and croaked at it in her panic but it was too late.
Then she tried to conceal the vulnerable chicks under some hanging plants. But the wily heron patiently waited until a duckling revealed itself before pouncing again, grabbing him out of the water so he followed the same fate as his sibling.
Photographer Paul Hughes, who captured the entire drama on camera, said a number of passers-by attempted to get rid of the heron using sticks or their dogs but he urged them to see the bigger picture.
Mother herons, who are also nesting at this time of year, need to gather a lot of food to feed their own hungry brood. Once they have succeeded in grabbing prey, they will return to the nest and cough up partially digested remains for their chicks to eat.
Mr Hughes, who spends hours watching and photographing wildlife, said there were plenty of well-fed ducks in the park. While he admitted that it was hard to watch, he said the heron was just doing what it needed to survive.
And he noted that at least one of those criticising the "killer bird" was eating a chicken sandwich while another was munching on a burger.