Duck team to the rescue

Now is the time for ducks to hatch so please watch out for ducks crossing roads.

Now is the time for ducks to hatch so please watch out for ducks crossing roads.

I’m thinking that ducks aren’t the smartest of birds because they can nest quite far from water; like up to a mile away.

But the ducklings, once hatched, can’t fly and have to get to water right away.

This means that momma duck has to walk them to the closest pond or body of water but this causes them all sorts of problems, especially the urban ducks.

They have to navigate around storm drains, flower pots, roads and the like. As a result, I’ve had a few interesting duck rescues in the past couple of weeks.

The first one dealt with a mother mallard and her eleven ducklings. She had nested in Morrisroe. What a silly place for a duck to nest in Red Deer. Neither Waskasoo nor Piper Creeks are anywhere in the vicinity.

Morrisroe also doesn’t have a pond or wetland in its subdivision. So where this adult duck thought she was going is anyone’s guess.

The ducklings wound up stuck in a flower pot; at least, that’s the story I was told. A family saw this and, being quick thinking, they managed to catch not only the ducklings but the mother too.

So this one was an easy “rescue” for me. All I had to do was pick up the two boxes of quackers and drive them to Slack Slough, where my husband, Larry and I released them.

Larry was quite worried. He thought we should release the babies first because he thought the mom would freak out and fly away.

I didn’t think so but I didn’t tell him that and agreed to release the ducklings first. They immediately rushed over to Mom who walked out of her cage and all twelve walked calmly down into the water where they drank and dipped. Larry and I decided that life was good, especially for that particular mallard family.

What I thought was especially interesting was the ducks’ reactions. The closer we got to water, the noisier they became. It was like they sensed that they were getting near their destination. Now, birds can’t smell, so they must have sensed the water some other way.

But how? They were closed into boxes so they couldn’t see.

Over the noise of the car, I’m sure they wouldn’t have been able to hear water. I guess this is another question I’m going to have to either do some research on or just give it up and accept that it happens without knowing why. But, then again, it would only be logical that they can sense that water is near. Otherwise, how would they know how to find the water after they are finished nesting?

The second duck rescue I dealt with also had a happy ending. Larry and I were heading down to Calgary for a family dinner with our oldest son.

We were already a tad late setting off but we were on the way. We got as far as Penhold when the phone rang and it was Carol Kelly from the Medicine River Wildlife Centre. The first words out of her mouth was, “I need help. I’m in the ditch near Sylvan.”

I immediately thought she meant that her car was in the ditch. But that was not the case. She had witnessed a common goldeneye with four ducklings almost get run over trying to cross Hwy 20.

The five ducks had gotten into the ditch safely but then couldn’t go anywhere because there was a chain link fence stopping their progress. Carol had been out in the rain trying unsuccessfully to catch them. We turned back and went to where she was. She had to stay out of her vehicle, because she had to make sure the ducks didn’t try to get onto the road again. She looked a bit like a drowned rat. I had a good pair of sandals on that I didn’t want to ruin in the mud and puddles in the ditch so, what did I do? Took them off, rolled up my pants and sloshed into the water. We tried to surround the ducks but Mama duck flew off. While Carol chased after the mother, to see where she was going, I dived into the puddle to get the four ducklings. Goldeneye are diving ducks and even though they were only in about six inches of water, these babies were diving under the water to get away from me. I managed to nab them all and cupped them in my hands to keep them warm.

Carol came back and said that the mom had flown around the corner to the east so we got into our vehicles and went in that direction. We came to a much bigger bit of water that was flowing towards a slough.

So we tossed the four babies into the water.

We weren’t even back to the vehicles when we saw mom fly back in and rejoin her babies.

We did the yeah-we-rescued-the-ducklings dance in the middle of the ditch, in the middle of the pouring rain, totally oblivious to any vehicles passing by who probably thought we were escapees from the local loonie bin.

But, it sure felt good — cold, but good.

The last rescue I’ve been involved with lately involved a lot of work.

Luckily, I didn’t have to do any of the physical stuff but kudos go out to the City of Red Deer Recreation Department for all they did.

We got a call about 9 p.m. that there was a duck hanging from a tree in the Sunnybrook area. We went down there and sure enough a male mallard was hanging by his wing. He had been tangled in some household string and as he was flying along, the string got tangled in the tree and he was stuck, hanging upside down. A friend of ours was with Larry and me; a much younger, more athletic, rock climbing type of friend. He figured he could climb that tree. After all, he climbed skyscrapers in Edmonton.

What was a little 50-foot poplar tree in comparison? So we went and got his climbing gear and in pitch blackness, he tried to scale the tree.

He got probably 20 feet up when he realized that the tree got too scraggly and he wasn’t going to get any higher than he was. It was midnight and we were hooped. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was to leave that poor bird hanging there while I went home to my nice comfortable bed.

The next morning I was there and, surprise, surprise, the mallard was still alive, still hanging by his wing and still kicking.

So I got on the phone to the city. They sent out a bucket truck to try to get the bird down.

Unfortunately, that one was just a bit too short so they sent for a bigger bucket truck. With this one, and with both city workers going up in the bucket, they were able to get close enough to the bird to cut him down, put him into a fabric bag and bring him down.

He was in amazingly good shape. Absolutely nothing was broken.

He had a couple of lesions on the one wings and he had muscle fatigue.

He only spent one night in the ICU at Medicine River Wildlife Centre and he’s been in the pond out there ever since. He has now rested up enough and is flying well so he will be released soon. I call him Super Duck, a name he has earned.

When you’re out there in the next little while, watch out for little bundles of fuzz crossing the roads. They don’t know how to read so they won’t be using crosswalks or be anywhere near Duck Crossing signs.

Most of them won’t need any guidance and I certainly don’t recommend that you try to catch every duckling you see. But we can make sure we don’t get in the way of their trek to water and help them if help is needed.

If you see a duck family in trouble, give Medicine River Wildlife Centre a call at 403-728-3467.

They will either send me or Super Duck to the rescue, or at least, give you advise on how to handle the situation.

Judy Boyd is a member of the Red Deer River Naturalists.