This story is flabbergasting. On November 21st, I received an email from Stephanie, one of the wonderful stylists at the Park Place Salon (Facebook Page) at the north end of the Brighton millpond. She’s an avid nature lover who often spends her breaks watching the pond’s wildlife. She discovered a hen with eight tiny ducklings in the parking lot that day and alerted me to the danger of them being born so late in the season.
The unofficial duck nesting season ended in early August so this hatching is highly unusual. Some of us question how this hen was able to keep her eggs warm for the past 28 days when the thermometer often dipped below freezing. In studying pictures taken during the summer, the hen is a seasoned millpond veteran. She’s the mother of three hatched May 21 (Brood 8) and she adopted the 11 from Brood 5 (which includes Parfait!) when Babs abandoned them to create her second nesting.
Nighttime temperatures were to reach 16 degrees by Saturday so the ducklings needed to be rescued before dying of hypothermia. In late May 2013, a dozen ducklings died when temperature dipped into the low 40s. The approaching cold front will be more severe. Further, food resources for ducklings is almost nil in November. They need bugs and tiny green vegetation for proper nutrition.
By the time I arrived Thursday evening, I was told the hen had eaten well and had brought her young up to greet regular park visitors. Because mom had a full belly and her babies were too young to eat duck chow, it was impossible for me to lure them close enough for capture. The hen could be seen beside shore through shrubbery (above and below). If you click on the two photos below, you’ll see tiny eyes to the left of mom and the rear end of a duckling on the right side of her. It wasn’t until the next day another attempt could be staged.
All of the young survived the cold night. The hen did a great job of shielding them, but no hen could provide adequate warmth from the approaching winter weather. Their capture was like a Keystone Cops movie. The hen was distraught and the chicks huddled in terror, but within minutes all eight ducklings were in a cardboard box peeping for their mother.
The Mallard hen could hear her babies peep. Since she couldn’t see them, she frantically searched (below). I placed the box in my van hoping she might hop in to join them. I had visions of wrapping her in a blanket so she could remain with the youngsters but it was a foolish idea.
I hated to separate her from her young. She was doing a good job but her efforts can’t conquer the elements. It will be at least a month before her young can withstand cold temperatures with adequate body mass and insulating plumage. The babies required quick care and warmth.
Later, Stephanie reported the hen continued to search for her young throughout the afternoon. Wish there was a way to reassure her our efforts will help guarantee the ducklings’ survival.
The ducklings arrived at the Wildernest store on Main Street in downtown Brighton. Joyce Schuelke, owner, arranged for one of her staff to transport the brood to Howell Nature Center, and she provided funds to help support them until they can be released back into the wild next spring when they have their adult feathers and are able to fly.
Rescue of these eight birds involved a half dozen people who believe every wild critter in Brighton deserves proper care and attention even when those needs pop up at unexpected times. They donated time, funds, and energy to give these off-season ducklings a good chance of reaching adulthood and returning to the wild. The ducklings have been added to this year’s Fertility Tournament as the 25th brood of the season. In 2013, 167 ducklings were born on the pond. More than 90 have survived (55%), a good percentage for an urban pond.
By law, wild creatures must be quickly transported to licensed wildlife rehabbers for care and treatment. We are fortunate to have the Howell Nature Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program available in Livingston County with their staff of veterinarians, caregivers, and volunteers. The chances of all eight ducklings surviving are excellent in the hands of professionals who provide care to more than 2,300 animals annually. If you are able, support their efforts with tax deductible donations to further their efforts.