Monday, May 19, 2008

The Great Duckling Rescue of 2008

Every year a stupid duck decides to lay her eggs outside my workplace. This would be fine if she weren't laying them in a ten-foot-high concrete planter that the ducklings can't climb out of; safe from predators, yes, but a deathtrap for tiny things that have yet to learn to fly.

In the past, many of the ducklings have either died in the planter or managed to escape only after the mother had given up, becoming dinner for local crows and cats. Their pitiful peeping cries were a terrible thing to hear. I couldn't stand it anymore.

So 2007 saw the inauguration of the first annual Great Duckling Rescue.

The problem with the GDR is that the planter is full of thick evergreen shrubs that have been growing for eight years; now they're an impenetrable, spiky mess. Under this the ducklings run hither and yon while myself and a brave volunteer get sliced to bits by evergreen thorns, trying to simultaneously hold the rigid stems away from the ground and catch tiny little things that run away at 30kph. In 2007 we also dealt with a dive-bombing mama duck, though this year she stood politely aside while we did our rescue operation.

The Dumbest Duck in the World

Apparently we saved fifteen ducklings this year. Before you say "wow, that's a lot of eggs!" let me point out that two more babies died instantly upon hatching, and another two eggs just never hatched at all (I guess my cubicle wasn't a very good incubator).

Some of my fellow employees think I'm crazy; their objections range from "survival of the fittest" (are we preserving a "stupid nesting behaviour gene" in the duck population?) to "nature is cruel" (yes, I know). Sorry, I can't just sit there and listen to animals die.

The day wasn't all downy sweetness, however; when I first climbed into the planter I think I stepped on a slow duckling and broke its neck. It was alive for far too long as we rescued its brothers and sisters...I won't go into details because it was pretty awful. But the rest of the birds seemed pretty happy, and when the mother walked away she was literally floating on a hovercraft of little bustling animals.

How she's going to PROVIDE for that brood is another matter.

Ducks Alive!


jj said...

great pics! Except for some owls in our apartment, it has literally been DECADES since I last say hatchlings. :)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Owls IN your apartment?

Hatchlings are unbelievably cute and show a uniformity of behaviour: run to mother and stay as close as possible.

Strangely, the ones that I found dead, partially emerged from the eggs, had coarse black feathers, and now I wonder if they weren't from a starling or some other bird (and maybe the mother duck killed them).

Muffy St. Bernard said...

PS: I didn't take the pictures; they were taken by a soft-hearted fellow employee.

jj said...

Muffy St. Bernard said...


Seems to me that owls would be a wonderful method of pest control, though their nocturnal nature might make them annoying.

Kimber said...

Okay, I don't think I've ever laughed so hard reading the words "hither and yon."

That aside, this entry is a startling mix of tenderness and horror. Broke a duckling's neck??!! Augh! But I felt better when I read about the duckling hovercraft.

Bravo Muffy. You bring out the duck-saver in all of us.

VanillaJ said...

Some of your co-workers sound like dicks! What kind of an asshole wouldn't take a couple of minutes to rescue baby ducks? I suppose they support nature 'taking its course' with homeless people, children with learning disabilities, battered women, etc.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Thanks Kim! Yes, the dying duckling was a really terrible thing to see, coupled with the fact that nobody else could see they were all in a cheerful "let's save the ducklings!" mood and I'm like, "ummm, this one over here is REALLY SUFFERING."

It may have already been hurt; I might not have stepped on it. But if I didn't, the fact that it died when I happened to be up there was an awful big coincidence.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Yeah, I expected some of the "don't rescue the ducks" backlash this year, since it happened last year as well.

I can understand their thinking -- like, to take one of your examples, I don't go out of my way to give money to the Homeless even though many people think we should -- but I don't understand the intense emotion behind it.

And unlike many misguided acts of kindness -- collecting pop tabs, for instance -- this is one that has a set of relatively obvious results: either the ducklings literally starve to death, or they live for another day.

jj said...

I was thinking about this "nature is cruel" business and vanilla brings out very nicely precisely why it is such a mind numbingly stupid attitude to have - it is PRECISELY because of evolution that we have evolved to have an altruistic, nurturing nature that ideally tries to help those less fortunate. To deny that part of us is to be nothing more than a caveman and ACTUALLY go against nature. :)

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of a story my girlfriend told me about her visit to Warwick Castle.

I suspect what she witnessed was the result of several years worth of the baby ducks being saved in such a manner, but it made it look like ducks and humans could communicate.

She witnessed the mother duck quacking encouragement to its ducklings to jump off a several meter high parapet where it decided to lay its eggs. This fall would have otherwise caused the death or injury of the ducklings, but a groundskeeper was waiting below catching the ducklings with his hat.

Every time a duckling jumped, the mother stopped quacking until the groundskeeper had safely caught the duckling, put it on the ground, and got ready for the next. The mother duck would then resume quacking encouragement to the next duckling in line: "QUACK Jump, and the nice man will catch you in his hat! QUACK"

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I agree, JJ & Vanilla.

But to be Devil's Advocate, their argument is usually that we are coddling wildlife in a way that actually makes them less suited for survival.

For instance, all the ducks in K/W (and probably in most large cities) no longer migrate during the winter, because they know that humans will come along and feed them. I don't know if this is ultimately good or bad for them, but the wildlife people and park & rec people have been telling us for years that it's harmful.

So the point of the "Nature is Cruel" people is sometimes that, by sheltering animals from cruelty, we are unbalancing their ecosystem and/or not teaching them to cope when cruel things happen.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Adrian, that's great! And probably a real tourist attraction now too. :)

I did notice that the mama duck was much less agitated this year, whereas last year she was literally trying to club me in the head with her body.

Time to visit Warwick Castle, I think...

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Adrian, that's great! And probably a real tourist attraction now too. :)

I did notice that the mama duck was much less agitated this year, whereas last year she was literally trying to club me in the head with her body.

Time to visit Warwick Castle, I think...

tanzi said...

I commend you for doing your part for the duck family...taking out the little guy aside, of course. I hardly think you're messing with Dame Nature when they're already, as you mentioned, off Nature's migration cycle anyway. And how is it "natural" to be living in a down-town planter? Yay for you, I say.

I love this time of year and find myself scanning the lawns of the university and near-by parks for ducklings as I drive to work. They are so fun to watch and quite innocent-looking. No doubt they don't meow in the middle of the night to wake their mom up for dinner...

I remember when I lived in residence at U of W and we tried to rescue a full-grown duck in the middle of winter. We kept it inside after finding it freezing just outside our builing. We were too late and it died. Very sad. That's why saving ducks=good. Feeding them=bad.


Syd Midnight said...

Muffy, the first time I ever "met" you was on the Portal of Evil, you gave kind judgment upon a detestable individual because "that's just the kind of Muffy I am!"

Evolution is no excuse.. it's not like ducks evolve to know such minutae of nest building. You helped a duck family because that's just the kind of Muffy you are!

I was once goaded into goosenapping a gosling from a Canadian Goose family by cruel co-workers.. it was tough work and when I brought the scared gosling back they said "We won't raise it, we didn't think you'd do it!"

So I had to take the poor thing BACK, I can't imagine what Mum and Dad were thinking, but I learned that geese will fight with all their birdly might if you threaten their family.

So it says a lot that you were tolerated, somewhat.. I imagine the goose mum knew you were helping, but instinct would not allow her to approve, and thereby encourage.

But that's just the Muffy you are!