Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Great Duckling Rescue of 2010

I didn't participate in last year's Great Duckling Rescue, because my shoulder was an awful mess and I didn't want to aggravate it. Workmate Dave did the honours in 2009.

This year I dived back into the bushes and it was Dave's turn to stand and laugh (and also to stop me from breaking my neck after an ill-advised jump on the stairs). After the problems of past rescues this one went pretty smoothly.

First, the preliminaries: after four years of this ritual, mama duck no longer considers us a threat, and when it's time for the babies to leave their impossible nest she actually comes to the front door of the office and quacks. Then she takes an enormous, smelly dump on the steps (presumably because she's been holding it in during the last few days of intense nesting action).

This year, though, she retreated back to the nest by the time I got out there, and she absolutely REFUSED to let me near the babies. Maybe she realized that one of them wasn't ready to go yet. I made a few half-hearted attempts to approach her, only to have her hiss ominously, which is pretty spooky when you're wedged face to face with her among the gridlocked shrubbery.

Half an hour later she was back out and down on the lawn, quacking for her cheeping babies to come down. Time for us to get to work.

I've discovered a good technique for trapping ducklings in our work planter: I push myself deep into the torturous foliage, with my hands free to scoop the huddled birds out of their nesting corner, and with my left foot against the wall to block their escape. Any ducklings that got past me were ably trapped by workmate Mark, who participated for the first time and probably managed to totally destroy his office casual attire.

Our other innovation was a stiff recyclable grocery bag, which we could put on top of the bushes and drop ducklings into as we caught them. Previously we had to climb partway out of the planter and drop them one-by-one work workmate Aurora far below, which allowed the remaining ducklings to reassemble in a more remote spot and also resulted in more than one baby falling beak-over-tailfeathers into the flowers on the front lawn.

We got eleven of them out and the mother walked toward the creek with her entourage, but one poor duckling was unable to keep up; maybe he was a runt, or maybe he was damaged or deformed, but he seemed to have trouble walking quickly. It was absolutely HEARTBREAKING to watch that poor little baby trying EVERYTHING to catch the herd, occasionally falling helplessly on its back and peeping terribly.

Amidst the usual unhelpful and pointless comments from passing coworkers -- "Nature's cruel!" "Natural selection!" "Let them die!" -- I wondered whether I could adopt this bird. But I've got a cat who LOVES to eat cute little things, and you can't housebreak a duck, and I've got enough things to worry about in my life as it is. So instead I picked him up and helped him along whenever I could, and when he finally got into the water he seemed able to swim well enough to his mother, so maybe he'll live.

It's inevitable that every year a few ducks will hatch several hours later, requiring us to catch them and take them down to the creek until we find the mother. This year, though, it was just a single bird that hatched late...and the parents actually came back for it! I don't know what they'd done with the rest of the brood -- probably left it with an aunt or something -- but after we dropped the latecomer down the three of them waddled back to the water. This is the first time I've seen the mother come back, and the ONLY time I've EVER seen the deadbeat father get involved.

Maybe he's off the booze and is trying to make a second go at family life?

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