A ducky morning

May 10, 2023 • 9:00 am

After a long spell of cold, gray days with drizzle, Spring has finally arrived in Chicago. Today’s high is predicted to be 71ºF (22ºC), and the sun is shining gloriously.  Normally the ducks would be either nesting or tending babies at this time, but this year Botany Pond is pretty much off limits, as it’s drained and ready for a summer-long renovation, landscaping, and then, in October, refilling with water. Here’s what it looks like now, dry as a bone. Renovation will begin after convocation, which is in early July in Chicago (we’re on the quarter system).

But wait! What is that animal in the circle? It is one of two wolf statues, put by the pond to scare the ducks away. Here is the other one:

As you see, it has sticks for legs, and is designed to move with the wind. These were originally put atop the nearby Chemistry Building to keep the geese from nesting. They didn’t work there, and they’re not working here, either:  yesterday a mallard pair was resting peacefully a few feet from the wolf. Ducks aren’t dumb! But when a person is shown the wolf, they are often startled, as it’s very lifelike!

Our big worry is that mallard hens will try to nest here this summer, which would be a disaster because there is no pond for them to swim in, and they’d surely die. We check for mallards every day, and Facilities (who put up the wolves), sends someone over daily to chase away any errant ducks.  Unfortunately, individual ducks keep dropping by, particularly a hen and drake pair who, I fear, will try to nest here.

The first stage of nesting around Botany Pond involves a hen choosing a nest site on the windowsill of an adjacent building. When I see a hen on the windowsill, I get very upset. And, as I write these words, here’s what I see right outside the window at my desk:

I have a suspicion that this is Audrey, the killer hen who had all her babies here last year but also tried to kill babies from four other broods that entered the pond. I saved nearly all the babies by going into the pond and catching them with a butterfly net, and only about two were lost out of 33. But I got pretty banged up, and I’m getting a bit old for this!

I was happy about saving the babies last summer, but of course I had to separate all the mothers from their ducklings and send the latter to rehab at Willowbrook Wildlife Sanctuary.  They did get a good chance at living, but it kills me to break up families; and there was nothing to do about Audrey the Killer, as she already dominated the pond with her ducklings (they all survived save one, whose first real flight as an adult took it right into the walls of the Regenstein Library, where it crashed and died). No baby could survive in Botany Pond so long as Audrey was there.  (Alarmingly, the hen above looks like Audrey.)

Now I have to worry that this stupid hen is actually going to attempt nesting near a dry pond. Ducks are really good at finding nesting sites, but not so good at finding nesting sites with adjacent water. Wish us luck!

5 thoughts on “A ducky morning

  1. Luck has been wished and sent telekinetically.

    Those wolf figures might work for a while – then, I see soccer fields and other fields loaded with Canada geese – even with more than one BPA-free wolf. They probably feel safe?

  2. Sooo… ducks aren’t dumb.

    Also, you’re afraid that they will attempt to nest next to a pool that very obviously has no water.

    Something doesn’t fit here, but I can’t put my finger on it.

    1. I can put a finger on it – or five or ten, and it is administrative hacks who know little to nothing about the pond and campus wildlife in general . And don’t care. I worked in the carpenter shop at Cornell before I graduated, and also in the Cornell Plantations (now woked to Cornell Botanical Gardens). When I went to the dean of the ag school there to complain about the university grazing cows in an area with centuries old white pines and thereby compacting soil around their roots, he all but threw me out of the office. This despite pamphlets being distributed in the hall right outside his office one of which described how damaging grazing cows in a wooded area is. Who is dumber here – the administrators who could prioritize finishing the pond or the ducks?

  3. Why can’t someone at the university come up with a temporary pond until
    renovations are complete ? Impossible ?

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