between the night of june 26th & the morning of the 27th, the watertrough project was blessed with three mallards. these irresistibly cute & incredibly resilient birds made it through the inadvertent trauma of a disturbed nest. we love this trio, mallards for life.
eight days prior, an intern for the npo i work for, fatally damaged four of the eight eggs within a nest near the laguna de santa rosa. i was called to the scene to help & the remaining four eggs were immediately & gently wrapped in my hankie. due to the development of those who were harmed, i figured they were very close to hatching. this both alerted me to the possibility of their survival & encouraged me to believe this could have a positive ending. thanks to our great neighbors for keeping an eye on them. the baby mallards actually hatched at our neighbors house on top of a snake cage (a bit ironic, but very green acres like!) thanks uncle duck.
the meeps, as we tagged them, were instantly cute. not until the second day did we interact with them & then my wife was hooked. they would follower her around & fall asleep on her. their puffy down was so distinct. one of the three had a more pronounced stripe on the top of his head (he, as we assumed) that resembled a mow hawk, he became 'frizz'. frizz was also the smallest. later he would be the first to fly! in the weeks that passed we began to realize how quickly we were becoming attached. we had told our selves that reintroducing them into the wild was the best scenario.
their first place of residence was in a big box with plenty of bedding, starter feed for game birds & of course water. there were also some branches & such for them to hop around on & rub up against. there was also a heat lamp there to keep the mini meeps warm. they love huddling together for sleepy time. this make shift nest was holed up in our tiled bathroom. it's quite the treat to wake up in the morning & hear the 'cheeping' of three mini mallards. they would get time outside of the box to roam our hardwood floors & outside deck. to watch little creatures like that figure stuff out is a lesson on life. days later they would get to have swimming lessons in the bear claw tub, way too cool! they are great little divers who seem to be right at home in the water. we learned that ducklings need to have a mothers' touch to swim immediately because they cannot yet produce the oil which helps them to be incredibly buoyant & repel water. the mothering mallard usually cuddles them & rubs her ducklings down with the oils that she produces. we humans lack that amazing adaptation and many others i might add.
they grew by leaps & bounds, to the point where one day, one of the meeps jumped & fluttered out. i was continually amazed by their athletic prowess. they are so daring & their innate drive must tell them, you can do it, even if we couldn't teach them.
after they outgrew their second box it was on to some backyard engineering. using chicken arks as my inspiration, i chose to construct them their very own duck ark. my wife & i learned a lot about mallards, sometimes via trial by feather & other times through research. one fact that i found to be interesting was that they like to nest in somewhat of a high area. with that bit of wisdom we created and oblong rectangular bottom that was wrapped in chicken wire (it's dimensions are, 8x4x4). this allowed them to have open air space & fresh ground cover to hunt insects. the purpose of the ark is to be movable. thus, you can maneuver the ark into places that will benefit the birds (for example, shade or fresh grassy areas that are still inviting for them to eat from & play in). most nights after work one of us would let them run around the yard. if you've never seen a baby mallard try to run, let me tell you, it warms your heart. especially when their running toward you because they know you as their mom! the top of the ark was a triangular nesting area that was also their night time fort. they had to be protected from the neighborhood raccoons, weasels, coyotes & a lone bob cat. during the day their nest zone could be accessed via a hinged gangway that they could waddle up & stumble down, which was a little awkward for them but doable. up there they had straw, a second watering jar & a secret hatch that allowed us to check in on them. i think both my wife & i slept with one eye open & our ears finely tuned on their first night out. we were nervous parents to say the least. i should mention however, that we arranged the ark so that it was right outside of the window above our bed. this latter brought us smiles when we heard their first quack!
weeks continued to go by & their little bodies began to change. their feathers began to molt (there are two times when this occurs before maturity) & their natural abilities were becoming noticeably refined. their voices were also getting stronger, quack! around the time they were starting to get their adult feathers, they were mildly flying & their mind set of us was changing too. they used to run to us & now they were running, swimming & fluttering away. it was good to see them be weary of people, i just didn't want them to be leery of us. as our research gave us new answers, we gave the meeps new amenities. a week or so into their duck ark we set up an inflatable pool near them. every chance we had, we gave them access to the pool. let's just say mallards are the Olympians of water sports. they are so agile, natural & yet playful in water. their ability to duck dive, while seemingly encapsulated in a bubble of air is astounding, so to are their back flips & walking on water. our neighbor, who was just as much a part of their rearing as we were, was instrumental for their pool parties. uncle duck even rigged up a shade structure from pruned tree limbs & a backboard. the trio most definitely loved their day time interactions within the pool. it was becoming quite the comedic chore for any of us to wrangle them back into the ark, basically it required a team effort.
the continued researched was gearing us up for a recommended reintroduction to occur between 7-10 weeks. as we approached this day of accomplishment that would make us proud & happy, as well as, sad empty nest parents. frizz showed us his gusto. on a late afternoon my wife opened up the duck ark & little frizz, who by this time had his blue band of feathers stretching across his wings & a tinge of iridescent green on his head, took to the sky! he pretty much pulled a top gun & requested a fly by as he circled out over the orchard. it was apparently awesome (i wasn't there). his siblings, who too had undergone the color change in feathers, were left to watch & wonder. the two grounded meeps seemed to understand & took to the pool for their swim session. as my wife was putting the ducks into their ark for the night, guess who made a triumphant return? that's right, frizz, he came back! maybe this was always going to be their home, or at least his home.
as our routines ran more smoothly, we knew we were getting close to their release. they were much more difficult to herd & their appetites were growing with their increasing size. which, by the way, mallards grow exceedingly fast. i feel as though their growth rate eclipses that of hens. the tough decision was going to be made & now it was up to me to decide where their next home would be. i thought the site where our relationship began, their native nest, was not the safest place come think of; far too many disrespectful actions by man during day & the multitude of natural predators in abundance at night. there were other stretches of the laguna that had lots of promise & i felt fortunate to know of these reserves in nature. anything to give them the best chance to start their own duckberg. i had made a choice & my wife had just returned home from her own journey. it was now time to move their journey through life into the wild. we prepared them the best we knew how, by doing our best & set off to the joint wetlands.
the joint wetlands is a conservation/restoration project of land that borders some public municipalities. this wetland has two islands, marsh land, healthy vegetation, a nice pond & neighboring land that is part of a grant that protects the entire acreage while promoting native plant species. this was a good, safe home, with all the things we want for our beloved mallards. wrangling them, for what was going to be the last time, was bittersweet. i loved interacting with them, they have such cool personalities. we gathered the three meeps & put them in our rabbit's traveling bin. once they were situated we nestled them into the back of the wagon. i'm pretty sure the car ride alone convinced them that people have to be questioned & mostly avoided. my wife was awesome to them & around them, her love for the meeps runs deep. this was very evident in the nurturing voice & words she used to help calm them en route.
on august 24th, in the late day sun, we sprang the mallards from our cradle to reintroduce them into nature. ma, pa & uncle duck watched as the first two waddled to the edge of the pond & then into the water. the third meep was kind of unsettled once the other two had hi-tailed it to freedom & didn't want to leave the bin. i gently hugged him on each side of his body with my hands & walked him toward his siblings. nearing the water i stretched my arms out & opened my hands. with a few powerful flaps of his beautiful wings he was well out over the water, making a nice landing & paddling toward family. the three of us hung out for an hour or so. we noticed the other geese, cormorants & to our surprise, a mallard mom with three of her own. it was very personal & important for me to say the least. i love those ducks! they will always be a part of my family. as i'm sure we were all emotional, words were scarce & film became the best way to capture the images of family embarking on the journey of life. we said our good byes & sent them our well wishes.
the three of them stayed close together as we left, having to go back once more when nearing the car to reaffirm their togetherness. two days later i went to the site to relieve my parental paranoia & to my utter delight there they were. the three of them chilling on one of the islands. i gave them a "cheep, cheep, cheep" in my best pa duck voice & their elastic necks perked up as if to gesture hello. i felt as though they knew it was me, which i loved. to have my fingerprint, so to speak, on such majestic creatures out in the wild is kind of a trip. i've been back two more times & the scenario has changed, as have the seasons. once there was one & then they had all taken to the sky; the geese, the cormorants, the other mallards too, they're all doing what migratory birds do, flying elsewhere.
it makes me think of the natural world. how does each individual perceive nature? what is nature in the mind of others? the nature that i know & love is unquestionable & supreme. there are so many ways to find all that is worth everything in nature. and as unconventional as the meeps upbringing may have been, in respect to that world, i think we did good. it reminds me of doug martch & his poignant words, "... some things you just can't explain, like why we're all embracing conventional wisdom, in a world that's just so unconventional." we did our best. i know the meeps did & will continue to do their best, while bringing out even more in us.
little did i know how much those three meeps would impact me, little did i know...