Just as I began to think about what to plant in the window box, a duck planted herself instead. Hmm I thought, a more suitable tenant for the garden than the nest of bunnies I wrote about last month. What could a clutch of ducklings bring about but a few moments of waddling, quacking cuteness?
Mama duck in the window box, safe from four-legged creatures
I did wonder about the height of the box. At almost six feet above the ground, I worried about when it came time to make the descent to local water. Others told me she was a smart duck, placing her brood above possible predators like the neighborhood foxes. I read up on duck behavior and found out that sure enough the ducklings, pliable and bendy at birth could indeed survive the fall.
As time passed I watched her pattern of sitting and leaving, each time an ivory egg deposited to join the others in the nest. A mother duck doesn't start incubating until all the eggs are laid. I counted six eggs from my upstairs spying spot. And occasionally I would grab a step stool and peer at her through the small garage window.
Five eggs so far in the perfect circle of downy feathers
Documenting her progress from up close would bring about a huffing, puffing, literal hissing fit. Although she did get used to my daily presence in the garden. Sometimes I forgot all about her and then I would look up to see her watchful and waiting.
Towards the end of the 28-day incubation I started to worry about mama duck in the hot south-facing location. One day she appeared to be almost passed out. I took her a shallow dish of water which ticked her off. I splashed her with a bit of water. Not pleased with that either. Then I saw her fly away for a few minutes, toward the creek between the two lakes, a water break I bet.
Meanwhile lots of news stories on wild baby animals appeared, the general advice being, don't intervene, the mothers know best. So I trusted mama duck to know what she was doing.
Yesterday I noticed broken eggshells and hurray, ducklings. I facebooked and instagrammed the sweet little guys with a #makewayforducklings hashtag like a proud grandma. But still I wondered how she would keep the wiggly things in the box. Too soon I heard a constant cheeping as I sat on the porch. The first escapee running through the rhubarb had me retrieving it and taking it back to the nest. Mama duck protested.
I placed large cardboard boxes underneath to catch them before they were ready to leave for water, according to research, ten hours after hatching. I went to check a little later and found a sad, sad sight in the nest. Six ducklings dead. Instead of keeping them warm, the heat had killed them. Mama duck was squawking as I looked.
I went away wondering how long she would stay. And then I thought again. I grabbed a slotted spoon from the kitchen and prodded her to reveal one more duckling still alive. I scooped it up and placed it the water feature on our patio. It bobbed. Mama duck scolded me and flew off to the front yard.
I improvised a makeshift island and ramp to compensate for the steep sides all the while to the tune of constant quacking. I went inside and watched until she returned. The quacking continued while the duckling swam and nibbled. Then it jumped out and waddled away with her mom through the yard. The creek is a quarter mile away.
I couldn't watch anymore.