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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh My Ducklings!

Of all of the present chaos in my life, Monday 3/22/10 was a particularly crazy day. It started as I was leaving home to head to campus for my Cardiovascular/Respiratory exam. Yes, we had a exam at 8 a.m. on the Monday following Spring Break! A mother duck and 6-8 of her ducklings were waddling beside and under my minivan. I ran back inside to grab my camera and tell Alisa to come and see since she was already up and getting ready to leave for school. The ducks had all gone under my car so I couldn't really snap a good picture; and, now I was getting concerned about getting them out from under there so I could be on my way. I did not want to be late for the exam. I ran back inside and grabbed a couple slices of bread and tried to lure the water fowl from under my vehicle. It worked but they then got under Mike's car, so I had to warn him that they were there, so back inside I ran (again). At last I was off to school.
When I returned, I saw the mother duck in the dirt under my kitchen window. I could also hear her babies but couldn't see them. There is a large pine branch on the ground up against the house, and I figured the ducklings were hiding out under the pine needles. I didn't want to disturb them or Mama Duck so I went on inside. Later, I was leaving to pick up Alisa & Aaron from school. I noticed Mama Duck pacing around where she had been resting in the dirt. I could still hear the babies but couldn't see them. Then I spotted the PVC pipe sticking up just above ground level where Mama Duck was. I thought to myself, "Surely the ducklings aren't down there!" and went to investigate further. I kept an eye on Mama Duck and approached the drain pipe slowly and cautiously. My heartrate picked up as I heard the magnified voices of the little ducklings coming from inside the pipe. I could see one or two ducklings clambering to get out, but it was too deep and too steep for them to make any progress. I ran back inside for my phone book so I could call City of Arlington Animal Services. They said they would send someone out. Upon my return from playing school yard taxi, I made a bee line for the kitchen where I could watch for the animal services truck and knock out a few dishes at the same time.
Within the hour the Animal Services officer arrived. He checked out the situation and retrieved his "pinchers on a pole" gadget from the truck--you know that thing they always use to hold dogs and snakes a couple of arm's lengths away from themselves. It reminded me of the dinosaur head "pincher" sourvenirs from the zoo where you grip the handle and T-Rex's mouth opens and shuts. Anyway, Officer Robert tried a few times without any luck. He tried dangling a noose which looked like a yellow nylon dog leash down the hole in the hopes that one of the ducklings would pop up from the curve of the pipe long enough to cinch the noose and drag him to safety. Again, no such luck. So, he called for of his fellow officers was going to bring a Shop-Vac and see if we could suction the ducklings out. They planned to use the small attachment on the end of the hose in order to "pick up" the duckling without sucking him into the cansiter. While we awaited the arrival of the other officer, Officer Robert located Mama Duck's nest in my front yard with three eggs still in it. We chatted about the state of Animal Services in Arlington, TX--a pretty dreary situation in light of all of the recent economic set backs and spending cuts. I learned that coyotes are on the prowl gobbling down stray cats and feral pigs are on the loose in North Arlington. Some man was recently prosecuted for having a warehouse near Hwy 360 and Mayfield Rd full of exotic "pets" as in poisonous snakes & spiders, lizards, wallabies, monkeys, etc. Who knew?!
Help arrived and the poor ducklings probably ran/swam for their lives when they heard that scary sounding vacuum amplified by the enclosed PVC pipe. It didn't really work, either, but the back up officer was able to rescue two of the ducklings with the pincher on a pole thing. Mama Duck paced around us and back and forth across the street to my neighbor's flower bed where she had nested the year before. It must have been driving her crazy to hear her babies and not be able to find them. Neighbors I'd never seen before stopped by to see what all the commotion was about. My neighbors from across the street came to join the mayhem as well wanting to know what we'd found. I'm certain they were relieved to hear the word ducklings instead of snake. We could still hear at least one more duckling down the pipe, but try as they might, the officers just couldn't manage to grab him. They placed a call to a lady who rehabilitates wild birds in her home and left with the two ducklings but not Mama Duck whom they said would probably reject the babies since they'd been handled by humans. I wasn't so sure. Mama Duck stood in the street near the Animal Services truck listening to her 2 frightened and cold babies call for her. My heart just about broke for her and her babies, including the ones still down in the drainpipe. Tears threatened as the apologetic officers drove off about 1 1/2 hours after their initial arrival.
At the officers' suggestion I went by Ace Hardware store to buy a cover for that pipe. I could still hear the baby duckling(s) down there and just couldn't think of what else to do to rescue them. Though it was getting darker by the minute, I grabbed Mike's shop light and extension cord and a long pine branch and wrapped it with duct tape (sticky side up) in hopes that the little critter might be able to hop up far enough to stick to the tape so I could pull him out--so what if he lost a patch of his downy feathers in the process. They'd grow back. It didn't work. I stuffed down a pine branch with green pine needles on it thinking that maybe, just maybe it would be enough for the duckling to climb on board and ride out to safety. Negative. I left the stick in the hole overnight just in case.
When I awoke early the next morning to head to my clinical rotation at the hospital, Mama duck was sitting on top of the hole with the pine branch sticking out of it. Bless her heart.
That evening, Mama Duck was gone. I removed the branch and heard nothing. I'm going to imagine that the remaining ducklings managed to paddle their way down the pipe which came out near the pond at California Lane Park where they me an "Auntie Duck" who cleaned and fed them and took them in with her own little brood of ducklings. They're all living happily ever after. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Until next time....

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