The mama mallard had circled the storm sewer grate for four hours Sunday, quacking nonstop. Finally, a trio of concerned citizens summoned Shakopee police.

Officer Vince Stahl responded to the corner near downtown and soon found that this rescue on an otherwise peaceful morning in the south metro community would become his first "duck assist."

Stahl deduced that the mother duck's webbed feet had been big enough to cross the storm sewer, but her three ducklings' feet were so tiny that they dropped through the grate to the damp debris a few feet below.

It's a rite-of-spring mini-drama of the sort that Minnesota law enforcement officers have responded to from Shakopee to Sartell in the past week.

The feathered family had apparently been following a favorite route for ducks along some nearby railroad tracks, where grain often drops as it's transported to the Rahr Malting plant. Somehow, they stepped off the beaten path.

From the dank depths of the storm sewer, the babies peeped and peeped. And the mother duck "was quacking feverishly -- very concerned," Stahl said.

At his behest, sheriff's dispatchers called in 4 Paws Animal Control, and an animal control officer soon arrived, net in hand. So did a city worker, who removed the grate.

The little brown and gold ducks "were huddled together in a tight little group, waiting to be rescued," Stahl said.

The animal control officer scooped up the ducklings, which were squawking madly. They were glad to get out of the net.

"The mama came right over. They fell in line and then walked east on the railroad tracks, picking up where they left off, I guess."