So I want to preface this story by saying it has a basically happy ending. I say basically because while for most of the parties involved, the situation worked out to their advantage, one particular party may have ended up less than happy. But honestly, I did my best. Here we go.
Every other Sunday I have a routine – sleep late, do laundry, plan my tutoring sessions for the week, and go get a manicure and pedicure around 4 PM. So on this particular Sunday, I let the dogs out around 1 PM, with the plan being I would ring up the salon where I get my nails done after bringing them back inside, schedule my appointment, and hop in the shower. Except, as soon as I let the dogs out and step outside to monitor them while they do their business – as I always do because I am one of those people who treats animals like little helpless human beings and therefore never lets them out of her sight if she can help it so no danger EVER befalls them – I look over at the swimming pool and see THIS:
It’s Episode One of The Sopranos in my backyard!
That’s right – a mama duck and three baby ducklings are paddling around in our pool. My first reaction is, oh my gosh, I need to get the dogs back into the house so they don’t either try to attack them or scare them away (which probably didn’t need to happen because the dogs basically act like the pool doesn’t exist and have never spent one second paying it any mind), so I yank them back into the house as soon as I can (which was basically putting the needs of the ducks over the needs of my poor dogs, who ended up having to wait another 3 hours to come back out and pee, but again, give me a break because I did my best here).
My second thought is , of course, holy shit I need to get my camera and take some pictures of this! But I admit, I was very flustered, not to mention it was very hot outside, this being Texas in July, and there was not a cloud in the sky and about 98% humidity, which probably affected my decision-making capabilities, so I grab my SL1 in a rush and use the 40mm lens, which was a poor choice but was the lens that happened to be on the camera when I grabbed it, so these pictures are not all that great but whatever. Being the middle of the afternoon and all, the light was also way too harsh which made for even worse shots, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that.
So I’m taking pictures, and I’m sweating my ass off after about 15 seconds due to the heat, humidity, and almost complete lack of shade in our backyard (or at least, shade that was close enough to the pool that I could get decent pics without a telephoto lens), and as I’m slowly inching closer to the pool, I see the mama getting twitchy. She starts fluttering her wings and whatnot, and I’m thinking, oh no. Because I don’t want to startle them and cause them to fly away, or stress them out or anything, so I back off as much as I can while continuing to snap photos.
Our neighborhood actually has some ponds on the golf course, and ducks with their chicks are not an unusual sight. Often residents have to stop and let ducks cross the street while out driving, so it’s not a total surprise to come across ducks and baby chicks anywhere out here. And even though we do not live near the ponds at all, I’ve seen them in neighbor’s yards before, and we see them flying overhead all the time as well as have them hanging out in our trees. In general, these ducks aren’t freaked out by people, or cars, so at first I wasn’t overly concerned about that – but once I got done snapping photos I started, of course, to worry. Mainly, I wasn’t sure the baby chicks were going to be able to get out of the pool, or if the mama would be able to get them out. This concern was exacerbated by going inside to put up my camera, then looking out the window to find that the mama duck had exited the pool and was standing over the chicks, who were still in the water.
This didn’t look like a good situation to me, so. I get on the internet to see what people do in this situation. Mostly what was recommended was constructing some kind of ramp for the baby ducks to use to get out of the pool – interesting, since we already have such a contraption in our pool that technically the ducks could have used. It’s called a ‘frog log,’ and I got it off Amazon when I noticed frogs getting into the pool on occasion, and, as usual, worrying that one of them might drown. It’s basically a floating lily pad with a little ramp attached, and I’ve seen loads of frogs hanging out on it and using it to hop out of the water.
Frog, meet Log.
So, I think, okay, I’m actually already prepared for this scenario. Except, the mama duck is just standing there, and the babies are just floating there, and they aren’t using the frog log at all, so I think maybe I should go out there and move the frog log close to them, and maybe even nudge a chick onto it so they can see how it works.
I mean, they’re not even looking at the thing!
So right about now some of you may be thinking that I’m an idiot, and I know nothing about duck behavior, and everything I am doing and am going to do next is dead wrong, and I should be ashamed of myself or whatever. Let me just say that if you say any of that to me in the comments, I will delete it, and you will be dead to me. Because I researched every move I made before I did it, and I asked other people what they thought, and I even made phone calls to professionals, and I acted out of concern and wanting to help these living creatures (and yes, if you’re worried about it, every creature is still living). So please keep your snark to yourselves if you’re feeling tempted to throw it my way, because I’m just going to delete you anyway and probably hate you for making me feel bad. Moving on.
So when I go back out to encourage the ducks to use the frog log, and kind of nudge it closer to them, mama duck gets spooked and – flies away. She’s nearby, flying around among the rooftops of my neighbors, but she’s not coming back down to the yard, and now there’s three baby ducks in my pool that I don’t know how to handle. My husband (whom I am texting because he’s not at home) says, try to scoop them out and put them in a box, but I’m worried about scaring the mama duck off entirely, so I end up going over to the nice neighbors (not the assholes who live on the other side) and asking them what they think I should do. I’m not sure why I did this, really, except that they are new neighbors who are in their late 60s to early 70s and they seem like very nice people, who unlike our other neighbors are very polite and quiet and I’ve chatted with them a couple of times, and I don’t know, I just don’t really want to make any duck decisions without running them by as many people as I can before I do anything. And plus, I knew they were home, so yeah. They came over, looked at the situation, and the very nice man who I know was just trying to help, actually got into the pool (fully clothed) and scooped the chicks out, while his wife grabbed one of our floats and nestled them onto it. I ran into the house and grabbed a shoe box, punched holes in the lid, and together we put the chicks inside.
I don’t know what to say here, mama duck, aside from – enjoy this time while you have it. Sorry.
Mission accomplished – chicks out of the pool, safe and sound and un-drowned. Except that in all that commotion, mama duck had completely vacated the premises. When she first took off, I could see her landing on rooftops and flittering around in our trees, but once the neighbors showed up and got in the pool and the chicks were scooped out – nothing. They wished me luck and went home, and I continued to desperately search on my cell phone for information about what to do next – put the chicks back in the pool and hope mama returned? Drive the chicks to the nearby pond and hope for the best? Put the box somewhere shady and hope mama came back? The internet information was shoddy, and I was incredibly hot, sweaty, and flustered by this time – I felt I’d taken a fairly mundane situation and turned it into something terrible, due to my tendency to panic when it comes to animals and constantly thinking they are all suffering and I have to save them. As I say to myself on an almost daily basis, thank God I didn’t have children. My sanity never would have survived the toddler years.
I end up taking the box, putting a light netting over the lid from a huge pool net so the chicks could be seen and heard, and placing it in our yard underneath the shade of some bushes planted in a corner, in the hopes the mama would come back and claim them. What she would do with them then was anyone’s guess, because the fact remained that these chicks couldn’t fly yet, and mama was either going to have to somehow walk with them for several blocks to reach the pond, or hang out in our yard until the babies could fly – which was going to continue to be a problem what with our dogs and their tendency to go swimming in our pool. So by now, I am hot, sweaty, frazzled, and fully aware that I am committed to this situation for the long haul, because no matter what from this point forward I’ve got ducks to deal with, and there’s going to be relocation involved.
And by the way, IT’S SUNDAY. This means just about every variation of animal control in the city is closed. I manage to catch one guy who has his own critter business on the phone, and he tells me the best thing to do is to put the chicks back in the pool, and let the mama come back for them, then do my best to nudge the chicks out of the pool without spooking the mother – so basically, turn back time to two hours ago when this whole mess started and I attempted to do just that in the first place. Great. Even though the guy on the phone disagrees with me and thinks the mother is still nearby, the mama has already been gone a good hour and a half by that time, and I’d had the ducks out in the yard under a bush with no sign of her return, and no matter how much I hid myself away to encourage her to do so (I could not bring myself to go inside and just leave a box full of baby ducks to their own fate entirely). I’d even taken the lid off totally for awhile, hoping this would encourage mama to return, but I panicked when the chicks started trying to get out and covered it back up with the net. In spite of my reservations, I hang up the phone, return the chicks to the pool, and go inside because I have heat exhaustion and am about to die.
The ducks swam around, and chirped, and once they all went into the skimmer and I had to go fish them out. No mother duck. By this time, I am on my computer Googling “how long can baby ducks swim in water before they drown” and finding out the internet estimates that at a time range of anywhere from two hours to two weeks (?) – so yeah, thanks internet. My needs have become more immediate by now – I just want to know how long these ducks can stay in the water safely, and if I have to fish them back out, and what’s the safe thing to do with them after I fish them back out, and I’m not finding any clear, consistent answers. By this time, my husband is home, and he’s Googling as well, and thank God he finds a number for a Wildlife Refuge Center in the city that is, miraculously, open (we found a lot of other numbers, but they were all closed). By this time, it’s 3:15 PM, and I’d first discovered the ducks around one o’clock; I’d been outside almost all this time, and I am sunburned as well as sweaty and stressed and, with the departure of mother duck for good all but certain by this time, also almost beside myself with guilt at breaking up this little duck family. I’m not at all sure I can reunite them at this point, but goddammit, I am not going abandon these little chicks if I can at all help it. I’ve dedicated three hours of my life to the black and yellow bastards, so the rest of my Sunday is now dedicated Duck Time.
Again, mama duck, I’m really sorry. I meant well.
The woman who answers the phone at the wildlife refuge is SO KIND, and knowledgeable, and tells me just what to do. In fact, as soon as I start talking she asks me what the chicks look like (the aforementioned black and yellow) and identifies them right away, telling me that they are getting about 20 calls a day (!) from people in similar situations. She says these are very domesticated ducks that live in urban areas and often wander off too far to hatch their babies and then get stranded, and most of the ducklings die for one reason or another (drowning in pools, eaten by other animals, or hit by cars trying to get back to ponds) and that for some reason there’s just an absolute explosion in their population this summer. She says their refuge is actually the only one in the city that is even still taking them in, and that unless the mama duck comes back, and I can find some way to: 1) collect the chicks, and then 2) get the mama duck to FOLLOW ME while I carry the chicks back to the pond (which is MANY blocks from my house and would have been all but impossible to pull off, especially since mama seemed long gone) then the best thing I can do for them is to get them back in the box and drive them out their center – which is about 25 miles from my house and closing in 45 minutes.
She also said if I couldn’t get the chicks there by 4 PM I could keep them in the box overnight, as long as I kept them warm and didn’t try to feed them anything, and drop them off the next day, but I did not want to keep three cute little chicks in captivity any longer than I had to, since that was just more time I was going to spend worrying about them, so I leapt into my car, raced into town, and dropped the babies off at the shelter by 3:57 PM. Whew! I was so relieved to know the chicks would be cared for; the woman who checked them in said they would be raised there among all the other ducks they have, then relocated somewhere away from traffic and highly populated areas. So, for the chicks, this was probably the best chance at a long duck life they were going to get, even if mama duck had come back for them in my yard. But for mama duck, unfortunately, she lost her babies. 😦 I feel bad about that, but as I’ve already said several times to assuage my guilt – I did my best. I do think in the end, I was going to have to do something even if I’d never chased mama out of the pool that first time, and even if I could have found a way to keep them together. And whatever that would have been, I wouldn’t have been able to do it until Monday, and who knows what would have happened in that time.
So hopefully I did the right thing, and as tempted as I was to name all three chicks while they were in the box, I didn’t do so, because then I would have really wanted to keep them. I didn’t get any close up pics of them, because once I realized it was a problem, I felt bad snapping photos, but trust me, they were really cute. Here’s hoping their duck lives are long and pleasurable — and here’s hoping I can recover from heat stroke and get into the salon for a manicure tomorrow.