How To Adopt Duckings - Or NOT!
Each year I look forward to the end of what I call 'The Season of Sog'. The chilling sheets of rain that plague the Pacific West Coast move north and the clumps of sodden, dead leaves begin to stir in the warmth of the sun.
With anticipation we move beyond the days when a spring afternoon can suddenly turn chilly, and a light blanket of snow astonishes crocus and daffodil alike. One morning we wake up and just know it’s time to visit the local nursery to purchase brilliantly colored annuals and perhaps replace a few of the perennials that didn’t make it through a frosty winter.
Visions of tender new roses, fragrant sweet peas, and bold begonias danced in my head as I drove toward the garden center that morning. Once there, I spent hours roaming up and down the rows. So much selection! How to decide? Eventually I did make it through the cash register and began my journey home with the happy prospect of raking, digging, and the sweet smell of good, rich earth.
At home, I raced upstairs to change into my gardening clothes but, while changing, heard strange bird noises coming from our back yard. As I didn’t recognize the peeps and cheeps, I moved to the window to have a look and, while searching, a flash of colour in our pond caught my eye. A photographer would have caught a classic double-take as I looked once, then twice, and still couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
There, in our pond, were nine brownish-yellow ducklings! A fuzzy, frantic, gangly mass of swimming, climbing, sliding-down-the-waterfall babies with little waving, flapping, fuzzy arms instead of wings!
My first reaction was to laugh and wonder which neighbor was pulling a prank. My second reaction was concern as I watched first one and then another duckling climb the rocks to the top of the waterfall and tumble back down.
One little fuzz-ball seemed to be the leader and wherever Boss Duck went – the others would follow. The longer I watched the more I realized that Boss Duck didn’t have a clue where he was or what he was doing and so the whole gang clambered and stumbled all over the yard.
Now I was truly concerned. I phoned my neighbors to see if anyone knew where the mysterious flock had come from. No one knew, but everyone was curious and I soon had a house full of duck devotees - all with different solutions. I knew we should let a good amount of time pass before we interfered as I didn’t want to scare momma duck away; but as we watched it became increasingly apparent that the babies were in full panic mode and that they would hurt themselves if something wasn’t done soon.
I, of course, had fallen madly in love with the little darlings and my first plan of action was to discover what to feed them and which kind of shelter to build them. I could see it all. We would watch them grow and thrive and then, when the time came, we would tearfully wave bye-bye to our grown-up family as they flew away for the winter. I could even feel a Hollywood Story coming on! My neighbors thought I’d be better off taking them across the street to the natural pond but I’d seen too many ducklings fly off in an eagle’s beak. These were my ducks now!
With a promise to set things right I sent the neighbors home and quickly went to the phone book to find the number for the local Wildlife Rescue Service. The woman I spoke to burst my happy little bubble almost instantly.
“If you can get them into a box, please bring them down to our location.” She said.
“But really,” I protested, “If you would just tell me what to feed them and how to house them we will manage just fine.”
“Ma’am” she said, “you have no idea how dirty nine ducklings can be. Your pond and your back yard will soon stink. To add to that, if you do manage to raise these birds, they will migrate and when they return in the spring to your yard , they will bring with them all the ducklings they raised while away. Using some simple math, you could reasonably expect dozens of ducks and I won’t even begin to tell you about the year after that! By then, all your neighbors will hate you and your yard will be one big pile of…”
“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll hunt for a box.”
Boxing birds is not as easy as it sounds. I’d think I had the whole mob cornered when one would spy an opening and the whole fuzzy troop would zip through. Luckily my husband came home and the mere presence of another stranger sent them all scurrying for shelter into the tall ornamental grasses around our pond. I could easily spot a duck and retrieve it one quick motion.
Soon we had a box-full of darling little yellow quackers - all except one. Remember Boss Duck? He was head of the pack for a reason. He was cunning and wily and he would not be caught! Eventually, I left the box in the middle of the yard with its lid on. Poor Boss Duck just couldn’t resist trying to rescue his noisy sisters and brothers and I managed to catch him in a long-handled fish net I kept for the pond. Not one duckling was hurt and all were safely snuggled on a blanket in the box.
During the ride to the Wildlife Shelter everyone settled down nicely. They huddled together on their warm blanket and occasionally murmured as we drove – all except for Boss Duck! The poor little fellow kept jumping up and bonking his head on the top of the box. To save his little noggin any more damage I reached in and cuddled him for a bit, talking to him softly and telling him he was safe. I know he didn’t understand my words but I do believe he sensed the tone of my voice and the gentleness with which I held him. He finally settled.
The kind staff at the Wildlife Center assured me that they would be kept warm and fed until their first feathers were fully formed and then released on the big lake beside the center. I envision every one of them as healthy grown-up ducks with families of their own.
I don’t know what happened to momma duck - I don’t even want to imagine - and I still have no idea how the flock ended up in our pond.
The whole experience touched my heart and I will never forget the day of the ducks!