Another duck lover

April 22, 2020 • 1:30 pm

After Mary Schmich wrote her column about the pandemic and Honey the Duck at Botany pond, she received a lot of email, with some readers wanting to contact me. She forwards me those emails so I’m free to respond if I wish. I always do, but here’s one that came about a week ago, via Mary, that I found particularly touching. A kindred spirit and fellow mallard-phile!

I quote the letter, and the writer’s name, with his permission.  The last line is very touching!

Mary, first of all, I always read your column.  You are great (I still read the paper newspaper and just an aside in college during the summer I worked overnights in the Tribune’s pressroom). After reading today’s article about the professor feeding the ducks I had to tell you–and hope you can forward my email to Professor Coyne.

I am a retired (now 72) high school counselor who loved his job and always had an office filled with wonderful adolescents.  My office faced a large totally enclosed courtyard. About 10 years before I retired one spring day in late April what should appear outside my window but a mother duck and about 10-12 baby ducks.  I think mother duck thought the enclosed courtyard would be safe from predators, which in a way it did.  However, there was no access to water.

First I had to put signs on all the doors to the courtyard warning students NOT to chase or try to pick up the baby ducks.  The babies were so small so I bought a bunch of pie tins and filled them with water and they would swim in them. I also bought duck food.  As the ducks got a little bigger I bought aluminum baking pans that they swam in.  Next, as they continued to grow I bought a child-size plastic pool with a board to be used as a ramp.

Well, by the time the 10-12 ducks got pretty big I had to buy more pools (a total of 5) as they needed their own space.  Finally sometime in July they would fly away.  Even though I wasn’t working in the summer I would still come back and scrub out the pools and feed them daily.  One year the water was turned off in the courtyard so I had to connect 3 or 4 hoses and run them from the janitor’s closet down the hall through the administrative and counseling office in order to reach the courtyard so I could refill the pools. I am certain the same mother came back for a number of years.  This went on until 2 years before I retired when they didn’t return.  I was glad in a way because I would have worried if I wasn’t there for them.

I loved those ducks.

Rick Watson Ph.D.
Retired counselor
I asked Dr. Watson if he could tell if it was the same duck year after year (about eight years all told). He said he couldn’t be sure, but suspected so because she was always very friendly to him and reproduced in the same place.
From YouTube

11 thoughts on “Another duck lover

  1. What a surprise when I saw the “Tribune” article printed in my local paper, the LNP (Lancaster, PA). The above story reminds me of a similar one at a high school in Lancaster where I used to substitute teach. It also had a closed-in courtyard where a mallard nested every spring for years. When the ducklings hatched, there was a ritual: after school was out for the day, the custodians and others opened the door onto the courtyard after they had very carefully closed off all hallways and opened the door to the outside at the other end. Apparently there was confusion the first year, but after that the mom seemed to know what to do and calmly led the ducklings in a procession to a nearby stream.

  2. Awwww! Sounds like you, Professor – gradually increasing responsibilities (except you have your own pond and a facilities maintenance department to assist). Seems like Momma Duck came back every year, but not her grown ducklings. Which is a good thing since Dr Watson would have had to buy (and fill) a full-sized yard pool!

  3. A wonderful story. I have a vivid mental image of that extended hosepipe running through the administrative offices from the janitor’s closet.

  4. Wow — what a nice man. It must make you feel glad, Professor Ceiling Cat, that you had Botany Pond to work with and didn’t have to go out and get kiddie pools!

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