The Ducks

Friday, May 25, 2018 was an ordinary day except it begins my story on that day. A neighbor, Pat, invited me to join a former neighbor, Ellie, from Lincoln Avenue where I live, for lunch at Willow Brook Retirement Center in Delaware. The dining area enfolds an inner courtyard where a Mother duck and her ducklings were housed. The courtyard contains a small tree, many shrubs, a small pond where the ducklings could flutter in the water, a green grass cover, and a brush nest where the Mother duck or hen could settle. A maintenance crew had appropriately provided for the comfort of the family of ducks. A high, floor-to ceiling glass window gave residents of this village wide-eyed access to this sight every time they came to meals. This obsessive attraction captivated the audience of attendees in the dining hall. Everyone stopped at the window to observe the progress of little ducklings beginning life while others were ending life.

Ducklings and their mom
Photo by Bonnie Shulman
BY ND 2.0

But a tragedy occurred. According to a bulletin published by Willow Brook, a raccoon scanned the barrier wall, alighted in the top of the tree, and climbed down into the courtyard. To satisfy his appetite, he killed every one of the possible 14 ducklings. Blood and feathers spattered the glass windows. Luckily, the Mother escaped. After the cleanup, the Mother returned the next day to find her babies, and sadness reigned. Fortunately, the institution substituted a new Mother hen and her ducklings.

To counteract this tragic story, my soul was revived by an amazing story reported in the New York Times on Thursday, July 26, 2018. A common merganser called a fish duck was coasting across Lake Bemidji in Minnesota, about 150 miles northwest of Duluth, Minnesota, followed by 76 ducklings in tow in a row. (A merganser is a fish-eating diving duck having a narrow bill hooked at the tip and serrated at the edges.) A female duck in Minnesota has about six dozen ducklings in her care. It is not unusual to see 20 to 30 ducklings gathered together with a single hen. But 70 plus! Experts contend that this is an extreme example of a somewhat common phenomenon in nature. Whereas a Mama hen can lay up to a dozen or so eggs, according to the National Audubon Society, a female often “dumps” their eggs in the nests of other birds in an effort to spread out their off springs and increase the chances of survival. Of course, it would be impossible for a Mama to incubate 50 eggs in a single nest. Some birds, including mergansers and ostriches, raise their babies in a day care system that is called a creche (kresh). In a creche, females leave their ducklings in the care of one female—often an older female who is experienced at raising babies, said Dave Rave, an area wildlife manager in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The females at Lake Bemidji, many of which are related, lay eggs that hatch around the same time. Afterwards the adult ducks go off to molt their feathers, leaving their broods in the care of a matriarchal female. “She’d be kind of like a great grandmother,” Mr. Rave said. While this practice is common, the size of a creche is 35 and 50, but not 70! Mr. Cisek, a photographer, has gone back to the lake several times and the adult ducks around a brood are a common sight. A Mama swims away, the ducklings follow her instinctively. This is an amazing phenomenon of nature.

A merganser fish duck
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay