Another day and YET ANOTHER RESCUE

July 3, 2022 • 11:30 am

When I was feeding our “regular” ducks early this morning, they wouldn’t eat, but were on the alert. Something was going on. And then I heard a duckling distress peep from the main part of the pond. When I looked in, I saw a hen with one duckling, and my heart sank, for I knew what was in store: another rescue.  I have no choice about these things. Then I saw that there were more ducklings. It turned out there were five of them.

As it was about 6:30 a.m., I called the newest member of team duck, Alia Goehr, a teaching fellow in humanities here at the U of C. (She specializes in Chinese literature and philosophy.) Alia helped with the last big rescue and turned out to be a massive duck and animal lover. She volunteered to help with any rescue, even early in the morning, so I called her. When I told her the situation, she asked “Do you want me to come over?”

I said, “Yes, please,” as I was by myself.  “How long will it take you to get here?”

“About twelve minutes,” she replied. Alia lives in Hyde Park and has a car.

I went upstairs, put on my shorts, teeshirt, and left my phone and wallet in the office. When Alia got here, I was already chasing in the pond trying to catch the new babies with a butterfly net. (As you’ll see, Dorothy attacked two of them and killed one.)

It was a very tough rescue as the ducklings were fast and agile, and I kept falling over as I bumped into underwater rocks. (I think I was still worn out from yesterday’s rescue.) Finally I got two of them in one sweep of the net under the bridge, where they were hiding.  Another was pointed out by a passerby; it was getting pecked by Audrey in the channel. That was easily gotten, and it wasn’t in bad shape and recovered quickly.

Finally, I chased the other two around the pond and one, exhausted, laid up against the pond wall. Alia walked over to it and managed to scoop it up with her hand. In a few minutes after drying and petting, it was bouncing around again.

That made four, and we couldn’t find the fifth. We waited a while, listening for peeping, and each of us walked around the pond looking for ducklings. No dice. I thought it must have drowned, but these babies are tough and that seemed unlikely.  Finally, after not seeing or hearing another duckling for a long time, we gave up. We had four in good shape.

Here’s Alia with the box o’ ducklings:

A closeup, all huddled together. Close inspection and gentle handling revealed that they were all in excellent shape.

Alia took them home to her husband Lorenzo, who will drive them to Willowbrook Wildlife Sanctuary today (I think they’re on their way as I write). He, too, is an animal lover, and it was great that she and Lorenzo had volunteered to drive the ducks wherever they needed to be rehabbed. Many thanks to both of them for helping today!

UPDATE: I heard that they all made it to Willowbrook where they were inspected, pronounced to be in good shape, and taken in for rehab.

I needed rehabbing too, as I was not in such good shape. Stumbling over submerged rocks and cement structures (I went under twice) did a number on my leg, which looked like this after I exited the pond (I’m wearing nylon bathing trunks/shorts):

It’s weird, but I didn’t feel any pain; it wasn’t until I got out of the pond that I saw the damage. I quickly rinsed myself off a bit and then rubbed my legs with hand sanitizer—a useful suggestion from a reader. Then, up in the lab, I took another photo. YUCK!

I drove home, sitting on a plastic bag in my car because I was soaked with dirty water. Within minutes I was in the shower scrubbing myself vigorously and washing my hair. Jean, another member of team duck, stopped by with bandages and antibiotic cream and helped dress my wounds.  I then came back to the pond to see if that fifth duckling had turned up.

While I was waiting for the time feed Audrey’s brood (it’s hard to love them in these circumstances), I got a call from the pond that someone had found the fifth duckling. It had somehow made its way onto land, and was noticed when Audrey and her brood were around it, trying to peck it to death.

Sadly, they succeeded. We managed to get to it when it was still alive, and I took it to my office where I warmed it, tried to give it water, talked to it, and even tried CPR (pressing gently on its chest while breathing into its nostrils). But over the next 45 minutes it got weaker and weaker, and finally, after a few rapid thrusts of its head, it died. Audrey’s animus had claimed another, but affirmed that my decision to rescue every new duckling that I could was the right thing to do. She had attacked two of the five and killed one.

It’s ineffably sad to have a cute newborn duckling die while being warmed on your chest. It didn’t deserve this, but some ducks like Audrey are territorial. I try to remember that. I will not show a picture of the dead baby, which was dry and a perfect little duckling. To me, thinking that we saved at least four lives is small consolation at times like this.

I hope to Ceiling Cat that we get no more babies this summer; I don’t think I can take another rescue. It’s hard on the psyche and hard on the body (I am not a young man!). In the meantime, here’s a list of all the rescues effected so far in Botany Pond. This was compiled by Team member Marie, who keeps the records, and it’s in her words:

2022 Duck Rescues

May 18: Dormitory Brood of 10 – rescued on the dorm roof

May 25: Audrey and her brood of 12 arrived at the pond.

June 6: A second brood of 9 arrived at the pond.  Jerry Coyne did a water rescue of the 6 who survived and sent them to duck rehab. 

June 17: A third brood of 10 arrived at the pond.  Jerry Coyne did a water rescue of all 10 and sent them to duck rehab. 

June 28: The Ryerson brood of 7 arrived at the pond.  Jerry rescued 6 and sent them to duck rehab. One was pecked to death by Dorothy. This was two rescues, with a single duckling rescued in the afternoon. 

July 2:  A brood of 4.  All rescued by Jerry and sent to rehab.

July 3:  A brood of 5.  Four rescued by Jerry and sent to rehab.  One did not survive.

I count a total of 35 ducklings entering the pond, with 30 rescued in good shape and rehabbed. That gives a total successful rescue rate of 86%.  It greatly saddens me that it’s not 100%, but that’s the fault of Audrey, who killed the ones that weren’t rescued. We did our best, even if we didn’t adhere completely to our motto, “No duckling left behind.”

We haven’t had to do this in previous years as we did not have a killer duck, though Dorothy did attack one last year.  There’s simply no possibility in 2022 of having multiple broods coexisting semi-amiably in Botany Pond. Any duckling not rescued would have been killed by Audrey and her babies, so I have no regrets.

I will try to post later today (I had three posts planned), but right now I’m exhausted, beat up, and depressed. Forgive me if I take a break until tomorrow.

19 thoughts on “Another day and YET ANOTHER RESCUE

  1. If you are going to keep jumping in that pond you need to get some waders like fisherman use. They will protect your legs from the rocks and the disgusting water.

  2. OMG! Rescuing these babies could bring about your own demise. There’s got to be a better way to get to them. Waders can work, as mmason0071 notes, but they tend to be stiff and limit your mobility. How about something like long-legged Lycra gym pants? Shoes of some sort would be nice as well.

    1. No, I’ve used shoes and they just get mucked up and impede your mobility. And swimmer’s itch will get you no matter what you wear. The best way to capture ducks is with the least clothing, and barefoot. I’m hoping this is my last rescue of the year, and since they’re renovating the pond next year I won’t have to worry for a while. I didn’t anticipate this because Audrey is a uniquely aggressive and protective duck.

    1. As much as I’d love to see some in-office action pics of PCC(E) at-the-ready in a wetsuit or even waders … [ taking that idea in a bit … ] IMO that’s a terrible idea as the bugs would probably contaminate the thing permanently and probably make infection even more likely.

      There needs to be a boiler plate for duck posts :

      Waders are for fly fishing, clamming, or field work. Period.
      Wetsuits are for surfing. Period.
      These are inappropriate attire for Botany Pond because ducks wait for no one.

    1. I can’t because of the old Jewish saying, “If you save one life, it is as if you’ve saved the world.” That is, you’ve saved the whole world for the person/animal whose life you’ve preserved.

  3. What an ordeal! But when you’re feeling tired, just think of all the ducklings you’ve saved who will grow up to be beautiful mallards thanks to your efforts.

  4. Dang, boss, maybe you should insure those gams of yours — you know, like Betty Grable or Taylor Swift.

  5. Aquaman! How exhausting it must be for you, Jerry!

    Once in a while you write ‘Dorothy’ instead of ‘Audrey’> “(As you’ll see, Dorothy attacked two of them and killed one.)” I wonder what happened to Dotty after her earlier appearance this Spring.

  6. Another day, more rescued ducks. Well done Jerry and Alia. You have great stamina Jerry. Would a soak in a bath tub help your wounds? Add Epsom salts and disinfectant to the bath water. I hope your wounds heal quick. Keep up the good work!

  7. Good on you, PCC(E). Helping animals is one of the best things we can do morally. To incur a real cost to do it (I showed my wife the pics of your legs: “Look what they did to your boy!” she wailed) – priceless.

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