Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Duck's Nest: Quackery on Prairie Street

"Our" duck
A week after we moved in, we were pleasantly surprised to find a mama duck nesting in our yard, tucked comfortably into a pile of straw left by the previous owners. And we were thrilled to watch her every day over the next month, counting the eggs while she was away, and then seeing them hatch into fluffy little ducklings!  

Home necessities: air conditioner, meter, duck's nest. 
When I told our next-door neighbors, they were excited, too. They had been seeing a pair of ducks waddling around, nibbling the seed that fell out of their bird feeder. But they didn't realize they were nesting so close.

It seemed like an odd spot at first, but a bit of Googling convinced me otherwise. It turns out that mallards frequently nest near human dwellings in gardens, flowerpots, or vegetation. They will nest up to a couple miles away from water, later leading their brood on a trek to the nearest river or pond. Considering that, we're very close to water (less than 1/4 mile away). Plus, not only is this nest well-shielded by our house and air conditioner, it's also shaded by a big maple tree, meaning that it's safe from overhead predators.

She didn't seem to view *us* as predators. Whenever we walked by, she would just flatten herself against the straw and fix us with a glassy stare.

Beware the stare of a protective mama duck! 

She was gone much of the time, no doubt searching for food, which gave us a chance to take a look at her eggs. While it's difficult to be sure (she covered them pretty well), we think there were up to 6 or 7 eggs total.

Our Duck's eggs

Then, on May 22nd, the ducklings hatched. I glanced at the nest when I got home from work, and noticed some unusual movement, which turned out to be ducklings! As I walked closer, mama duck started ruffling her feathers and hissing at me. She had never done that before! It was clear that no one was getting anywhere close to her babies. 

Mama duck fiercely protecting her ducklings!
I knew that the ducklings could swim right away, and that mama duck would soon lead them to water. But I didn't realize that they would be permanently gone from the nest in under 24 hours. This was too bad, because Junie didn't get a chance to see the ducklings in the nest--if we knew this was the only day to see them, we would have called her Mom's house and had them come over. 

They made it to the water! 

But, as I mentioned, we are very close to water, and on a walk a few days later, we noticed a couple broods of ducklings tagging along behind their mothers. One of these broods had six ducklings, just the right number to be "our" ducks. We decided that they were definitely our duck and her babies. Junie was thrilled to see the babies ("they're so cuuuute!"), and Justin and I were happy to see that they had made it to the water safe and sound. 

I've heard that ducks will nest in the same place year after year. We'll see if she comes back to our garden again next spring!

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