The Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup in June, but I knew 2018 was going to be charmed a few months earlier.
On March 31, as I returned home from getting groceries, I noticed two mallard ducks in my front yard. Hm, that’s odd, I thought. Downtown Frederick is home to many ducks at Baker Park, but out my way — not so much.
The chance encounter made me sentimental. Some of my fondest memories as a child were walking around Culler Lake and watching the furry gold-colored ducklings waddling along with their mamas.
On April 4, after running more errands, I realized that duck encounter was more significant than I initially thought. I parked my car, walked up to the stoop, and looked down. I saw something new in my flower bed: three eggs and a nest.
Mallard Duck babies were on the way! So I did what any normal, sensible person would do: I bought two video cameras — think: motion-activated baby monitors — and placed one at ground level and the other on the railing on my stoop.
Over the next month, I watched stunned, amazed, and humbled.
The song is “UpUpUp and Over” by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).
Mama Duck laid 14 eggs in total over the next week and a half, which was waaaaay more than the 9-12 eggs Wikipedia said were even possible. Mama Duck laid one or two eggs a day, usually around dawn, and then she’d leave to feed until the next morning.
On April 13, Mama switched up her routine. She began incubating, staying on the nest almost all day. Regardless of cars, scary humans walking by, or our neighbors’ barking dogs, Mama Duck sat there undaunted and kept her eggs warm. No matter if it was raining, snowing, or frosting outside, Mama Duck stayed – her brain programmed to a higher cause.
On May 11, I noticed Mama Duck started doing something different – something I’ve never seen before. She opened her beak and began chatting, letting out a low vibration from her neck. It was almost as if she was telling her mallard duck babies that their journey out of their shells needed to begin now.
Indeed, the very next morning, between 4 and 5 AM, the 14 baby ducks began hatching. One by one, they’d poke their head out from their mom’s breast, getting a look at their new world. Mama Duck would shift the unhatched eggs around, sometimes poking her beak down into the abyss, trying to give more encouragement. By the afternoon, all the baby ducks had emerged, wandering around the flower bed.
On May 13, at 7:45 AM in the morning, Mama Duck got up and started covering her nest with her feet. The group of 14 ducklings began lining up, pointing their heads forward. The mother, who picked this nest location because she saw an easy route to water, moved forward. The rest of the ducklings followed. They hopped out of the flower bed never to return.
Twenty-five days later, the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup. Suffice to say, I considered these my lucky ducks.
Now I don’t want to be a big nature or earth nerd, but this experience, like when I adopted my cats, changed me in ways that are hard to articulate. I’ll try. Watching the entire process, furthered my appreciation for wildlife. While we humans stay inside and live in our insulated lives, other animals struggle with the weather and a changing world that is constantly being molded by humans into something that most benefits us. Mama Duck showed the same type of dedication that any human mother would show, including a fierce protectiveness when her ducklings were born. Each baby duck, despite looking nearly the same, had different personalities. Some would be more curious about the world around them; others would be focused on their presentation and feathers. Some were troublemakers; others, like mom, were caretakers, trying to help with the hatching process. Watch my video closely — you’ll see it too.
During the new year, if you need a resolution, here’s my suggestion. The next time you see that piece of trash outside, maybe it’s a straw or a Coke bottle, don’t ignore it. Pick it up, throw it away, and make a difference. Purell is your friend. Your hands, I promise, will get un-dirty.
Don’t think someone else will fix the problem. These cute ducklings deserve to live in the same type of beautiful home that we all are fortunate to have. It’s something tiny, but if we all do it, we could make a big difference.
Photos: Ian Oland/RMNB
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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