My friend and neighbor Jill did it to me again! Accompanied by her two children, Justin and Annie, and her brother's friend Tom and his two girls, she brought me a tiny little muscovy duckling who was probably only a day or so old since his "egg tooth" - the tiny projection at the tip of his beak which is used to chip his egg shell - was still very prominent. Apparently, he had become separated from his mother and his siblings. Tom had rescued the little guy as he was being nipped and chased in the creek by the geese and the swans. He was quite a handful and Jill thought, perhaps, that I might know who or where his mother was. None of my girls were even close to having babies yet this year, so many of their nests having been destroyed when the creek flooded the berm and by the unusual cold spell we had in the early spring. So, my curiosity was, of course, very piqued. This was the first time that one of my girls had babies and didn't bring them home.
After Jill left and I was alone with the little duckling, I realized that she was absolutely right. This duckling was a real handful, running everywhere and jumping off everything. I had no trouble at all naming him - Jack - as in "Jumping Jack"! It was even hard to hold him, he just squirmed and yelled. Most of the time, new little ducklings will cuddle on my shoulder, hiding under my hair. I've always thought that it's probably the closest thing to their mother brooding them and that my hair replaces their mother's feathers. Not Jack. He wanted no part of relaxing, he just wanted to run and jump and cause trouble. It seemed that there was nowhere safe I could leave him, even for a minute. He just went running and jumping all over everything and everyone. Even Misty, with her puppy curiosity, ran away from him ... and she stayed away!
Finally, in severe desperation, I went out to the garage and hosed off my trusty old pet carrier, the same one I used for Peeper and for all my other little ducklings. I filled it with cuddly towels and took Jack up to my third floor workroom which is the warmest place in my house. The minute I put Jack inside and closed the door, he began to peep and peep and peep. His peeping just got louder and louder. I knew he'd be safe inside the carrier and he could amuse himself by looking out the wire mesh door. I went downstairs trying all the while to ignore him, but, try as I might, I couldn't. He peeped so loudly and so constantly that something told me to go back up the three flights of stairs to check on him. When I reached the top of the landing, I was aghast. There was Jack, yelling with all his might, standing at the very top of my stairs, peering through the posts of my staircase, looking for all intent and purpose as if he were going to try to jump down the three flights of stairs into the center of my foyer. I quickly grabbed him and went to check the carrier. I was sure that I must not have locked it properly and that he somehow managed to get the door open. But, the door was locked tight and there was absolutely no way that Jack could have gotten out except to have squeezed through the tiny grating. No duckling had ever done that before. I could only hold my head and think "Whatever do I do with him now?".
At this point in time, I had to carry Jack everywhere because I was afraid to leave him anywhere ... alone. Together, we went down four flights of steps to my basement and found a great big IBM computer monitor box and I carefully put Jack inside. I brought him and the big box upstairs. Feeling that at last he was safe, I went back downstairs to prepare dinner. After about a half hour, I had a funny premonition and I came upstairs again to check on Jack. I couldn't believe my eyes, I looked in the box and he was gone. I looked everywhere, panicking. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally found him huddled in between some of my art supplies. I couldn't imagine how he had jumped out of this huge high box. I couldn't think of anything else to do but to tape the box flaps up - now the box was double its height - and hope that there was no way Jack could find to jump out of the box.
Jack spent a really peaceful night and in the morning, I was very relieved to find that he was still in his giant box. He was huddled under the towels, nice and warm. However, throughout the day, I began to notice that Jack acted very differently towards me than the other ducklings that I had raised. I supposed it was because he hadn't imprinted on me. He didn't follow me around. In fact, he had his own agenda and often ran away from me. He loved my plants and I guessed that it reminded him of the happy days spent with his family. I had the distinct impression that he was always searching for his mother and his brothers and sisters. And, I knew that I would do my best to find them for him for, tempting as it is for me to want to nurture a little duckling, I knew that Jack's best chance of survival was with his mother.
My heart ached for little Jack. He had quieted down so much, I was beginning to really worry about him. I kept checking his breathing. But, he seemed fine and I really felt that he was just very unhappy here without his little family. I went up to the end of the creek and around the other side looking for his mother. I assumed that his mother was Laura, one of my white muscovy girls, since I hadn't seen her in quite a while. In fact, the last time I remembered seeing Laura, she seemed to be spending a lot of time at the end of the creek. Laura wasn't born here and she may have been raised as a pet so I think all the hustle and bustle of the other ducks, was too much for her. Laura was given to me by and named after a wonderful Long Island artist who found her just sitting in the middle of her street. No matter how she chased her, Laura always went back to sitting in the middle of the road. Very dangerous. Finally Laura - the person - captured Laura - the duck - and brought her to me.
I looked for Laura again at dusk, hoping to find her and her ducklings, but, she was nowhere to be found. The next day I searched again early in the morning, but, still no Laura.
That afternoon, my husband and I drove around and sure enough, Laura was at the end of the creek, brooding her ducklings, a big pile of bird seed in front of them. We raced home to get Jack, all the while wondering if my instincts were right. Would Jack be as happy to see his mother and brothers and sisters as I thought he would? And, would his mother recognize him as one of her own? And what if I was wrong? How on earth would I ever keep up with him?
When we brought Jack back to the end of the creek, Laura was still there with all her little babies. Jack immediately started to peep, something he hadn't done all day. I let him down about ten feet from his mother and he made a bee-line straight for his family. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him. The other ducklings shied away, not knowing what this little whirlwind approaching them was, but, his mother knew. Laura gave him little pecks - I call them "duck kisses" - all over and Jack ran right underneath her, happy to once again be with his family.
What a touching sight, so tender and heartwarming! I was so glad that I
was able to return Jack
to his mother. His chances for survival with her are so much greater than with
me. It's always so hard to return a little guy to the wild, knowing all the
things that could harm him. But, I knew deep inside that I did the right thing and, seeing
the little duck family reunited gave me that all over good feeling!
Goodbye little Jack ... Please come back and visit me ... There will always be a bowl of cracked corn at my house waiting for you and your mom and your brothers and sisters!
And I'm sure that Jill, Justin and Annie will have a slice of
bread or two for you
The text, all photographs and all graphics on this site
Copyright (c) 2000, (c) 2001, (c) 2002, (c) 2003, (c) 2004 by Maria's Duck