Saving The Ducks

Sandra Fischer

© Copyright 2023 by Sandra Fischer

Image by Alexa from Pixabay
Image by Alexa from Pixabay

One spring morning I was pulling weeds in the flower bed while my husband
mowed the lawn. I inhaled the sweet smell of freshly cut grass and took pleasure in the
daffodils making their appearance from the bulbs we had planted in the fall. They stood
at attention, their yellow-trumpeted blossoms announcing spring’s unmistakable
arrival in Indiana.

Suddenly, a large bird erupted from a nearby shrub in the garden. I jumped as its flapping wings
almost touched my shoulder. My husband stopped the mower and yelled,

That’s a mallard hen; I’ll bet she’s nesting in there.”

Peeking into the bush, we found five oval eggs tucked among twigs and leaves.
So, we kept watch for her from the house. Soon she returned accompanied by her mate
bringing food. In the ensuing days, we were careful not to startle her and kept our dog leashed
and clear of the shrub. We couldn’t wait to welcome the arrival of the ducklings.

Then one morning our hopes were dashed when we found the nest abandoned
and only broken shells scattered about. A predator must have destroyed the eggs. In the
days that followed, we noticed the mallard pair swimming alone on our lake while other
duck parents paraded by with offspring trailing behind. We felt sad for the lonely pair.

We shared the story with a Ducks Unlimited friend. He told us to watch for them again the
next spring, as ducks are known to return to the same nesting area. That

didn’t make sense to me. Wouldn’t their experience teach them something? The real
estate they might choose again was a hostile neighborhood.

Spring returned and, yes, the ducks didn’t learn from experience. Mr. & Mrs.
Mallard took up residence in the same bush. Soon we discovered eight eggs in the nest.
I agonized over their future. How could we protect them? Our Ducks Unlimited
friend said, “Let nature take its course; some nests will have survivors, and some won’t.”

I wasn’t content with that, especially when these ducks were setting up
housekeeping on our property. I felt compelled to protect them. Both my husband and the
friend smiled at my idea in wanting to protect them, questioning why anyone would dare
interfere with nature’s course.

Resolute, I headed for the hardware to implement my idea. I bought green plastic-
coated wire fencing and low gauge wire for seaming it. I cut and wrapped, shaping a
dome to fit over the shrub. I fashioned an entry door so the hen could have access. My
plan was to keep the door open during the day while we supervised the nest, then close it
at night.

After I made the property improvements to the nesting shrub, I waited to see if the
hen would return. Before long she flew down and waddled through the opening.
My plan seemed to be working! She must have sensed that her landlady had created some
security measures because that evening she allowed me to close the door. The next
morning I edged up to the nest with careful steps and opened the door. Soon her mate m
came to feed her.
I continued the practice from day to day. Sometimes I would approach the bush,
crouch down and look to see if she was home. I’d speak to her in soft reassuring tones,
asking how things were going and if she was bored or restless. She seemed content and
appeared safe.

My husband watched the proceedings with disdain. I felt sorry for him. By virtue of his gender,
he simply could not identify with the mothering instinct that bonded me with the hen. He
was also concerned the neighbors would think I had gone “looney tunes” by talking to an
 evergreen. To derail that notion, I shared the project with them, and they kindly accepted
my explanation, even becoming interested with how it was

How’s your family?” they’d ask, meaning the ducks, of course. I would give my report that t
he Mrs. was fine, and we were still awaiting the blessed event.

Mother’s Day arrived and after we came home from church, my husband walked
the dog. When he came into the house, his downcast face betrayed him.

I checked the nest; something destroyed the eggs again. I’m sorry.”

My heart sank. “Perhaps they hatched.”

“I don’t think so. It looks the same as before.”

Just then, the phone rang.
Congratulations!” the cheery voice of our neighbor greeted me. “Your ducklings
have hatched! We saw them parade to the lake, following the mother hen. It’s Mother’s
Day for ducks, too!”

My eyes brimmed over, and I choked a question. “How many?”

“Six or seven. You might see them swimming along the shore. One straggler fell behind.
He’s in the yard next door. If you hurry, you can see him.”

“They hatched!” I yelled as I flew out the door and ran across the yard to find our neighbor, Alan,
with a plastic bucket lined with a towel. I saw the ball of yellow fuzz for a moment as he scooped
it up with a frisbee and put it into the bucket.

“I’m taking some guests for a pontoon ride, so I’ll try to find the family and reunite him.”

I returned home to find my husband smiling. “Did you see them?”

“Only the straggler. Alan is going to take him to find the rest.”

“Well, you did it. I never thought such a crazy idea would work, but I’m glad it did.”
Later, Alan called to say they had found the brood and released the duckling.

At first, as he paddled toward the hen, she turned away. . .then, she must have
recognized him, because she turned back, stretched out her wing and pulled him in. He’s
safe with the rest of them.”

I thanked him and wiped my eyes. That night I savored how blessed we were to
have helped the ducks. It was a small thing, and yet it showed me how life is made up of
small considerations.

The mallard family paraded by our house like a small flotilla that spring. One day the whole
troop came up into our yard to feed on scattered seed from our birdfeeders. It was as if Mr.
and Mrs. Mallard wanted to show the ducklings their birthplace.

Later that year we retired and moved to South Carolina. When the next spring arrived,
I wondered if the mallards might have returned. I heard they did, but when

they found us gone they nested in a neighbor’s shrubbery. I never heard if the neighbors
improved their abode with security measures or if they hatched another brood.

I think of them every spring when I see a mallard pair swimming in the lagoon by our new
home, a stopping place on their migration north. I have a strong urge to ask, “Would you be
going to Indiana to nest in a certain flower garden I remember there?”

Sandra Fischer, an octogenarian who retired in 2001, enjoys writing inspirations and stories gleaned from her life. Her first book, “Seasons in the Garden,” self-published at age 78, is a collection of prose and poetry written for her garden club newsletter over 14 years. Her books are not widely known but are enjoyed by family and friends.

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