Monday, April 25, 2016
Make Way for Ducklings
I am not a big fan of humans interfering with nature. I think, in general, we're too focused on short-term goals and too unaware of possible unintended consequences for this to work well most of the time.
Last Monday when I got off work, a mama Mallard and her eight ducklings were crossing four lanes of traffic to visit my campus.
I pulled out my phone to snap a picture, only to realize the babies were too small to hop up on the curb.
Mom was on the sidewalk, quacking encouragement, but try as they might, the little guys couldn't scale a cement cliff twice their height.
By the time I was in range, the kids had given up on mountain-climbing and wandered off, looking for another option.
A few feet away lay an open storm drain,
Instead of being happy to have her baby back, Mom started quacking at me.
"Calm down, birdbrain. I'm trying to help."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the remaining ducklings toddling toward the storm sewer. I ran over and herded him back to the flock, then picked up a second duckling and set him beside Mom.
She still didn't get what I was trying to do. Instead of counting her blessings, she hopped off the curb, quacking. One of the kids tumbled off after her while the other looked around frantically, trying to figure out what happened to Mom and brother.
I started to scoop up the jumper, only to see one of his brothers toddling in the direction of oncoming traffic as fast as his tiny webbed feet could carry him. I ran over and herded him back to Mom. Meanwhile, another duckling was halfway to the storm drain.
I settled into an unseasy rhythm: pick up a soft, fluffy, freaked-out duckling, set it on the curb, then run around in a circle, herding the remaining ducks away from traffic and the sewer. Grab another duckling and repeat the process.
All the while, the ducklings kept waddling in all directions and toppling off the curb as soon as I set them on it. I was making negative progress. My heart sped up as I realized one of them was almost certainly going to plunge into the sewer or toddle under a passing car tire before I could get the whole family relocated.
About that time, one of the students who'd been studying in the nearby grass ran over to help. His assistance more than doubled our throughput because he didn't have to handle herding duty, too. In no time, the entire family was safely on the sidewalk.
Without so much as a quack-you, Mom led them away like they were escaping from a pair of duck-o-philes.
My takeaways from this encounter: occasionally humans can help Mother Nature and never expect gratitude from a Mallard.