The patio ducks

July 4, 2023 • 9:30 am

As I noted about a week ago, a mother mallard has had ten babies on a second-floor plaza connecting two dorms at my University.  It’s a nice secluded space, large and complete with a cement sitting area and plenty of grass and tree.  But there is no way the babies could have jumped to the ground and found their way to water, as the plaza is ringed by an insurmountable wall.

Last year, when a hen nested and had a brood there, the only way I could think of to save them was to remove the babies from the mother soon after they hatched and take them to rehab. I did that, but when I lifted Mom off the nest and scooped up her babies, she went nuts, quacking and following me around as I carried the box out of the dorm. It broke my heart, and I still get quite upset thinking about it; but at the time it was the only way I knew how to save them. There was no way they could get to water, and I wouldn’t be allowed in the dorm regularly to tend the brood.

It turns out that mom re-nested there and had a second brood. Apparently the summer-school students decided to tend them, giving them food, water, and even a kiddy swimming pool, and, as far as I know, the babies survived, did well, and fledged.  (I didn’t get to see that but only heard about it.)

This year Mom did it again (I’m not sure it’s the same mother!), and a brood of ten appeared from a hen whom we’ve named Maria.  But this year there are no students in the dorm during the summer. The tending, therefore, falls to us.

What to do? Fortunately, the people at Facilities called me, knowing that I was the Duck Whisperer, and asked for help. I and several members of Team Duck went up to the plaza to have a look-see. Sure enough, there was a protective mom with ten four- or five-day-old babies. This time we decided not to separate mom and babies, but to go to the dorm at regular intervals and give them all food, water, and swimming facilities. That is a LOT of work, as we have to schlep food and water over there and clean out all the food and water dishes each time. (There is no hose, so all water is either brought over or taken from a very slow-runnibng bathroom sink.) But, being a hard determinist, I realize that I have no choice in this matter.  I must follow my motto, ‘no duckling left behind.”

And so Facilities has allowed us to visit them every couple of days to fill up the food and water bowls, and install swimming facilities.  We had one of our visits yesterday, and here are some photos.

A sign on the door to the plaza put there by Facilities. They are taking this matter seriously, which pleases me:

And an ironic sign on the outside wall:

Below, the layout: this is a second-floor plaza between two dorms (one on the right), and you can see that it’s large, isolated (and undisturbed in the absence of students), and has plenty of grass, trees, and bushes. Two members of Team Duck are enjoying the scenery. (This was several days ago when the ducks were hiding in the bushes to the right. Now they are used to our presence as we don’t approach them, and they know that our appearance means food and water.

We have put food and water dishes, as well as swimming tubs, along the wall that separates the patio from the grass. (You can see them at the base of the wall.) There’s a similar wall with dishes behind the photographer (me).

Maria and her brood. Yes, there are ten—count them—ten. A head count is the first thing we do each visit. She is a terrific mother, always standing guard over the brood. Note the small duck pellets we gave them to entice them toward the food bowls. (It worked.) The pellets are Mazuri Waterfowl Starter Chow—the best duckling food money can buy, and a complete diet. (We supplement it with dried mealworms.)

When it’s hot, as it was yesterday, the ducklings like the shade under the chairs, but I’m sure that when we’re gone they also go into the shrubbery. Note Maria standing by:

The ducklings have gotten bigger in just a week.  Here they are with their food and water bowls, as well as the big water-filled containers that serve for the nonce as swimming (or rather, splashing) facilities. This week we are going to put in much larger tubs in which they can all really swim, but we want to first ensure that they’ll be able to get in and out of them.  Right now there are four places to immerse themselves and splash, while the food and water dishes are to the side:

Maria may have seen a predator above, as she’s looking up, along with some of the babies:

We aren’t allowed a lot of time with the patio ducks, and so I couldn’t take many pictures. But as you see from their condition and full crops, they’re doing quite well.  Tomorrow we’ll go over again and take care of them, perhaps bringing the “swimming pool” (a medium-sized cement-mixing vessel from Home Depot). When they get bigger we also have a larger one for them. Fingers crossed!

And Amy the library duck is scheduled to hatch her brood in about a week. Now THAT is going to be more trouble, as they can jump to the ground from the window. What to do then? Normally I’d herd them to Botany Pond, but there’s no water in it this summer. I either have to catch the babies and get them to rehab, or put them in a box and try to walk them, with mother following, the 1.5 miles to the nearest big pond.  That is unlikely to work, but we’ll first try to keep Amy and her babies together.

After a very rough Duck Year last summer, highlighted by the depredations of Audrey the Killer duck, who would allow no other broods in Botany Pond, as well as my repeated entry into the water to save 31 ducklings who would otherwise have been killed (resulting in multiple injuries to me as well as a few bouts of swimmer’s itch), I had hoped for a summer’s respite. No such luck. But at least I don’t have to jump into Botany Pond this year!

11 thoughts on “The patio ducks

  1. How about putting the ducklings inside a transparent container (such as a plastic fish tank) and wheeling them along on a trolley to the water? That way the mother can see the ducklings and hopefully will follow all the way.
    Here’s some examples for sale on Amazon UK.

      1. I’m not a duck person, but I can tell you from decades of raising goats by hand and not letting them nurse, that it’s a whole lot easier on the mothers if they can see their babies. We separate our kids from their dams as soon as they are dry, and put them in a small pen adjacent to the kidding pen. The fence mesh between is open enough to allow easy viewing. When the does go back into their main pen, it’s just on the other side of the little baby pen, also with an easy open view. They can lick the kids, smell them, and see them, but not nurse them.

        Where I lived before this place there was no way to do that, and there was a lot of crying from the moms. There is practically none now.


  2. “But at least I don’t have to jump into Botany Pond this year!”

    Why does this sound ominous? What does this mean?!?!

    I kid I kid! Delighted to see duck developments!

  3. Jerry, did you hang out your shingle at the office door: Coyne’s Care and Catering?

    That duck will be back every year: “The food is great, the service phenomenal, and the atmosphere divine!”

    Happy to see some duck pics for the summer and a BIT envious of the work.

  4. That’s actually a pretty nice set-up. I didn’t know there was all that grass and foliage; I was picturing a big cement slab. With help from Team Duck, that’s a safe place to grow-up and fledge. Kudos!

  5. What’s ironic about the “no pets” sign? That the negation slash passes thru the dog but not the cat?

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