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September 1, 2020 / mws

2020 Herding Ducks


For several years, we have been observing the young duck families in our country neighborhood. Most of the time, a mamma and papa duck search the bushes for an area to create a nest and hatch the eggs.  After a few days, the mamma duck and her ducklings start wandering the neighborhood.  The ducklings stay close to mamma and many times line up in a single row to follow her. The ducks displayed behavior that we considered normal.

Single File

When I was in college, I developed an interest in Biology.  As a follow up course I took Ethology which is the objective study of animal behavior under natural conditions.  During my years of traveling, I have observed many different species of animals and each has their own pattern.  As I stated above, watching the duck families for several years, I had learned what actions were typical for a duck family.

Eating cracked corn

In 2020, a young Mama duck delighted our community with her appearance of nine tiny ducklings. From the beginning, this duck family did not follow the expected behavior patterns. When Mamma Duck first left the nest with the ducklings, they were so small…many just a day or two. It seemed that this Mamma knew our community, since she arrived at the area where cracked corn is left on a regular basis.

The Renegade

After a couple of weeks, the ducklings and Mamma duck did not display the usual duck behavior.  A few of the little ducks would stay somewhat close to Mamma. The other ducklings meandered all over the place.  There were two ducklings that we called the rebels!  These two would always be wandering up to 10 feet away from Mamma. The rebel ducklings were very curious about objects and climbed over anything in their way. One of the wildest little ones, I called the renegade.  This duckling would jump at objects rather than walk around them.  Even tall grass would cause a jumping response.  One day while I was observing the renegade, he walked into a garage door and jumped up!  This led me to think that the little renegade duckling may have vision problems. Of course, there was no way for me to know for sure, but it sure was unusual.

Wall Walking

Our back yard is contiguous to the wetland area of our community.  There is a wall and fence at the end of our yard.  The top of the wall adjoins our yard and then drops about 10 feet to a pond.  The ducklings liked to walk outside the fence along the top of the wall.  Mamma duck walked in our yard on the inside of the fence.  Twice during my observations, I observed some strange behavior from this duck family.  Mamma seemed very nervous and would make some low-toned quacks as she waddled along.  All of a sudden, she quacked loudly and all nine ducklings instantly jumped off the wall!!  I couldn’t believe it.  Apparently, Mamma duck sensed some danger and the ducklings reacted instinctively.  Happily, in a few hours I saw the duck family together with no apparent injuries. And then, to see it happen again a few days later reinforced my thoughts that this is not a typical duck family.

After a few weeks, all nine ducklings started to wander.  They would meander around the yards and over driveways and expand their territory.  Unfortunately, there were drainage grates in many of the yards and the ducklings were unaware of the danger.  Mamma duck seemed unfazed about the wandering of the ducklings.

One evening, I noticed the Mama duck and 3 small ducklings looking nervous. After a quick investigation, 4 of the ducklings had fallen into the openings in the drainage grate.  The grates were extremely heavy and the anxious ducklings had already scurried into the open pipe.  To attempt a rescue, the local fire department was called in. The rescue squad checked all probable locations to locate the ducklings.  However, no ducklings could be found.  The rescue team assured us that the ducklings would likely make their way to the pond and reunite with Mamma duck.

Mamma nesting with five ducklings

The next morning, an exhausted and traumatized Mamma duck was snoozing by one of the drainage grates.  SURPRISE!!  When Mamma moved, there were 5 ducklings with her.  During the day, two more ducklings found Mamma…so now Mamma had 7 of her original ducklings back in tow.

The rescue plan

That evening, the last two ducklings were discovered in another drainage grate.  We just couldn’t call the Rescue Squad again, so we used the collective community ingenuity to develop a rescue plan. Rope was tied to the grate and three members of the community were able to lift the grate to gain access to the area where the ducks had fallen. By this time, the frantic ducklings had retreated into the drainage pipe.  A second wave of resident ingenuity was put into action at this point.  A resident had a decorative shutter with slats (for climbing) that was inserted into the drainage hole. A scoop of cracked corn was provided that was placed at the top of the “ladder”. It was hoped that the corn would entice the little ducks to climb up the ladder.

Duck Herding

During the time of the rescue, Mamma duck and the 7 ducklings were roaming around and Mamma was clearly not happy. We all thought that Mamma duck should be waiting to meet her rescued ducks.  So, I volunteered to try to round up Mama duck and the seven siblings. About 10 minutes, one little duckling appeared at the top and ran to Mama duck.  Shortly after, the second duckling arrived at the top and scooted over to Mama.  A big cheer was heard from all the gathered residents.  As one neighbor stated, “It takes a Village”. Our duck family was together again!

Duckling arrives at top

Mamma and her 9 ducklings

– From Jacob Braune   – Always behave like a duck.  Keep calm and unruffled on the surface, but paddle like the devil underneath.

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