In order to find a safe place for the ducks and Canada geese to nest around our pond, my brother placed a nesting box on top of the metal grid over the overflow culvert. It certainly kept critters like raccoons, foxes and coyotes out of the eggs, but I was worried about how the ducklings were going to get out without going into the gaping hole. It is hard to see in the picture but there is about half a foot of grid in front of the box where the lip is. And, if it is windy or stormy and the lake is overflowing, the current would draw in little fluffies. Our Canada, Gracie, nested along the pond but a Mallard hen chose the box.
I recall several years ago watching a mother duck who had hatched her ducklings along the pond a few days earlier and had been introducing them to lake life. A rain storm came up with wind. They were at the end of the lake near the overflow and got too close to the current. One by one I watched from my kitchen window as each duckling went through the grid and down the culvert. The hen Mallard was hysterical, flapping back and forth in front of the grid. Finally, she dove through the grid and down the culvert after her brood. What a tender picture of motherhood! I hope they all floated unhurt out the other end–under Springfield Road, under the property across the road and into the lower fork of Lick Creek. But I was not eager to see that scenario repeated this season.
We checked on the hen periodically to see if her eggs were hatching. Fortunately I was outside in the garden when I heard the hen quacking loudly and swimming back and forth before the box. Sure enough, 10 ducklings were huddled together in the box and mom was trying to coax them out. They were so frightened of me they nearly spilled out; I quickly drew back. Mom, meanwhile, pretended to be hurt to distract me, flapping to make it look like she had a broken wing. I called Butch, my husband, and said, “Houston, we have a problem.” Together, we decided to take a large piece of particle board to make a bridge to the nest to give us access. I grabbed a small box to place in front of the nest in order to catch the chicks if they scrambled out.
When Butch got on top of the grid, he decided to just scoop up one duckling at a time and launch it carefully into open water to mom. One-by-one he lifted a soft brown and yellow peeping chick into his hand and plopped it into the water. The first one went under but ducklings are unsinkable–it quickly bobbed to the surface and paddled to mom. She summarily had all 10 in tow and swam off as if this were the usual order of the day.
Mom duck didn’t seem any worse for wear and all 10 chicks were happy paddlers. I, however, was extremely relieved not to witness little chicks swept away. Even so, we know the odds are that some of the 10 will not make it to adult duck-hood. All the natural predators in the country ensure the survival of only the fittest. We haven’t seen the flock in the last few days as she keeps them well-hidden and do not have the latest count. But such is life in the country.