Sunday duck report: Preparations for Hatch Day

April 26, 2020 • 11:30 am

Since mallards typically incubate their eggs for 28 days, and Honey and Dorothy started sitting hard on their nests on April 5 or 6, I estimate that the ducklings will hatch and then jump from the window ledges about May 3 or 4. I asked Facilities to work with me to prepare the pond and nest areas for this event, and they’ve done their job in spades. (I called the event “The Great Leap Forward”, which it is.) Everything’s copacetic—and ready to go.

First, to provide some space below so I can display a large Google Earth view, here are two photos of Wingman from this morning. He doesn’t yet know that in a week he’ll be a dad, but his instincts tell him to wait in the pond for his hens.

Here he’s just had a bath after his breakfast, so water is dripping from his bill:

And an “artsy” picture of Wingie immersing himself:

Here’s the overhead photo of Erman Hall and Botany Pond; I’ve inserted arrows and numbers to give the locations of items shown below.

First, I asked Facilities to fence off the small strip of vegetation on the pond (west) side of Erman. “A” marks Dorothy’s nest on the third-floor ledge. Just below it Facilities has put a thick layer of mulch to cushion the ducklings’ leap. You can see the mulch in the photo below, which shows a fence a bit north of where the ducklings will land. That, in turn, will be about 20 feet north of where I’ll put the duckling ramp.

Here’s the fence. Note that there is a small opening on the left side of the fence that ducklings can pass through (I’ll remove the mulch there after they jump to make the opening larger.) The object is to keep people off that strip of land so they don’t pursue or otherwise bother the ducklings, who often hang out there, or try view the “duck islands” from too close, which could disturb mother and babies.

Right to the south of where the ducklings will leap, there’s a metal pylon. Facilities covered it with bubble wrap so they won’t land on it and hurt themselves, and I did a touchup with more bubble wrap and duct (duck?) tape:

At “D” is the south fence to keep people from entering the strip in that direction. Note the duckling passage (arrow):

“C” marks the long fence that sequesters a strip of the bank so the ducklings can rest, forage, and sun themselves. You can see the fenced-off strip of land at the base of Erman hall, along with the mulch that Facilities laid down beneath Dorothy’s nest. You can also see the pylon topped with a bubble-wrapped shower cap.

Honey’s nest is in the dangerous spot marked “B”, two stories above what was a cement porch outside doors on the east side of Erman. Landing on cement would not be something good for a leaping duckling. But in a magnificent piece of engineering, Facilities covered the porch with a thick layer of mulch and then built a mulch-containing trampoline to catch the ducklings. I asked them to cover the wooden edges of the trampoline with some soft substance to prevent harm to falling ducks, and they did that using rubber tubing.

Honey (you can see her little head) is in the circle, with the trampoline below. She is unaware and presumably unappreciative of the trouble it took to do this!

The white paper on the door are warning signs (see below):

There’s enough “give” in the canvas so that the ducklings won’t bounce, and they’re too light to bounce anyway.

Here are the wonderful signs they put on the inside of the door, complete with a duckling picture:

The curved route from “B” to “D” in the photo above is the route that, I think, Honey will take when leading her brood to the pond.

Here’s Honey on her nest this morning:

And Dorothy on her nest on the other side of the building—a much more propitious location.

Inside, in my old lab, the comestibles and duckling ramp are ready. We have eight pounds of mealworms and about 100 pounds of adult duck and duckling food. The freezer is stocked with frozen corn:


I don’t think we could be any more ready. Honey and Dorothy are surely the most cared-for mallards in Chicago, though they have no idea of what we’ve all gone through to ensure their safety and that of their broods (not to mention Wingman’s genes). My eternal gratitude goes to the folks in Facilities, including Katie Peck, Kevin Austin, and Brandon Rux, for helping design and install the modifications shown above, as well as Associate Vice President Tracy McCabe for handling the administration’s end.

Thanks as well to all the workers who put down mulch, erected fences and trampolines, and did the other on-site work (sadly, I never met them), as well as Eddie, who put up the DuckCam.

Finally, thanks to Media Relations and Communications, including Jeremy Manier, Colleen Mastony, and Nicole Watkins, for handling the publicity and helping coordinate these arrangements.

39 thoughts on “Sunday duck report: Preparations for Hatch Day

  1. I asked Facilities to work with me to prepare the pond and nest areas for this event, and they’ve done their job in spades.

    Dang, boss, you guys shoulda been put in charge of the planning for Woodstock. If not for Operation Overlord. 🙂

  2. I can barely stand it that you are having so much fun with the wonderful duck project. And, it is one of my favorite places to be on the internet vicariously living this important episode of the Botany Pond Duck Adventures. Best of luck to you and your charges.

  3. “Duck” tape – one of the most aggravating, sphincter-tightening, get-off-my-lawn curmudgeonliness inducing malapropisms ever.

    Right up there with “wala”.

    When done inadvertently, of course. Never here. This is all fine. Love you man…

        1. Indeed! And None of these duct tapes are cheap! Even the Harbor Fright one is like five bucks!

          I have been getting 6 packs of what I think is the Amazon brand – Lockport (LOL) – from Amazon.

          Somehow, I think the notion developed that duct tape means cheap. No way!

        1. I’m intrigued

          The words (?) might date back to the 1800’s but what says the word/s are meaning what we think they mean?

          Nevertheless I never knew about duck cotton, and I always thought “duck tape” was a marketing ploy with the cute duck as a way to claim “duct tape” like “Band-Aid” or “Kleenex”

    1. “Wala” is voilà for people who never took French or German but think they know French and are being cool by this ridiculous hypercorrection built on a confusion between the German pronunciation of “w” in English as “v” — so to them “v” in French must be pronounced “w”. That’s my explanation. I’ve heard it mostly in radio ads. Took me a while to understand what they meant because it sounds to me like they were using the Arabic exclamation “Wallah!”, “By God!”

      Then there is another radio ad that trades in a hypercorrection, also from the French: “apropos” which, like “voilà” has been used in English for who knows how long. There’s a radio commercial where it’s pronounced “apropose.” In fact it’s even more ludicrous because one person in the commercial accuses another for not being able to spell “apropos” but the person who does the criticizing pronounces it “apropose.” So now we get someone pedantically accusing someone else of misspelling a word but he pronounces the word incorrectly.

      1. More likely it’s a simplification of the ‘VW’ sequence in French, which English doesn’t have.

        1. But since English doesn’t have the ‘VW’ sequence, wouldn’t they have come across it in French class? And if they took French, one would think that they’d know how to pronounce voilà; furthermore, voilà is a French expression that was incorporated into the English lexicon long ago.

          But people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. None of these mispronounciations are as goofy and embarrassing as when I was about 11 or 12 years old and our family had dinner chez some family friends. In an effort to impress the adults, and their cute son a few years older than I, I concocted what I thought was a terribly witty comment that would allow me to reference the Grand Prix, only I pronounced it Grand Pricks. Suddenly the table fell silent and there were gulps of suppressed laughter. I was mortified. I’ve never forgotten that self-inflicted humiliation.

  4. Tom Magliozzi said on Car Talk there’s a study that showed duct tape doesn’t seal ducts. Actually I tried it for a dryer and it takes a ton to really seal the holes and hold up over the long term.

    1. For a dryer, there’s special tape with thick aluminum foil instead of the usual fabric – designed to be heat resistant and for the adhesive to remain sticky (as opposed to softening too much) at high temperature.

      1. I erased what I wrote about aluminum foil tape – but yes, that’s why I used it last time. Key word : “last”.

      2. Well, in case anyone would like to know, I’ll save you tons of grief : The best dryer vent for me is to use pre-fab steel pipe, epoxied on all seams, added foil tape if necessary. Use standard hose/pipe clamps. This allows the pipes to be disassembled when dryer lint needs removal without damaging the pipes. Cheap foil pipe will usually get destroyed if it is moved at all.


  5. Do the hatchlings spend any time in the nest? Does Mom feed them there? Or does the exodus happen pretty quickly?

  6. I am fairly on tenterhooks. ALthough a “bouncy” landing on the trampoline would be easier on them, as that produces a deceleration when they land. The second landing after the bounce should not be a concern.

  7. I can’t help but wonder if all of these arrangements would be easily conceived if classes were on campus.
    It’s wonderfully amazing the interest and concern the staff is taking.

    1. We could have everything except blocking the door, I think. I was told that they could make an exception this year because hardly anybody is using that building and there’s also another exit. Normally they couldn’t put the trampoline there, but I think they could put mulch there. One way to deal with this, which we’ve discussed, is trimming the vines off that windowsill so that Honey would have to nest on another one, preferably on the west side of the building. Judicious side-specific pruning could solve the problem.

  8. You just said above that it’s a pronunciation used by people who don’t know French, so I doubt they would have learned it in French class.

    “Deja vu” is incorporated into the English lexicon but most English speakers pronounce the final vowel as ‘u’ rather than ‘ü’, as in French.

    Besides, I knew plenty of people in my high school French classes who had studied the language for years and still couldn’t master the u/ü distinction, and who continued to pronounce letters that were silent.

  9. Getting so exciting now! I am really looking forward to the hatching! Will you be there taking video?

    1. My sentiments exactly! I can’t wait to see the ducklings, and a little sad that even if Jerry does manage to film the event, I’ll be asleep in NZ when it happens. Still, it’ll be a nice thing to wake up to!

  10. Such meticulous preparations! These ducks are extremely fortunate, and so are your readers because we are able to participate from afar. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with Honey, Dot, Wingman, and the wonderful University of Chicago staff. Looking forward to the descent of the ducklings.

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