For my very first blog post, entitled “A Duck With A Feather”, I published a picture of Abby, a “wild” mallard duck who took over my backyard for several months a few years ago. I say “took over” because she and her mother literally destroyed the pool and turned it into a giant, disgusting duck pond until we forced them to move to the patch of grass next to it. Anyways, here is the story of how two ducks waddled into my life.
So, 3 years ago on a late afternoon in May 2011, my family and I were sitting at our dining room table when a mother duck and her 7 ducklings (likely less than a week old) walked into our yard and promptly jumped into our pool. We allowed them to swim for about 15 minutes before we realized that the ducklings would not be able to get out of the pool because the edge of the sidewalk and the water level are several inches from one another. We tried using pieces of wood and pool noodles to create ramps and potential ways for them to get out but the mother duck (later named Mama) was too skittish. Around 9 pm we went to bed hoping they would be smart enough to climb out before the temperature dropped to the low 60s.
The following morning, we woke up to the sad sight or several dead baby ducks floating in the water. As we were scooping them out of the pool, we noticed the mother duck still hanging around on the pool deck and sitting right next to the lid for the skimmer of the pool (where the water is sucked into the pipes that lead to the pool pump). I was curious as to what she was waiting for so I went over to the skimmer, lifted the plastic lid, and on the plastic cylinder that prevents air from getting sucked into the pool pump, stood a tiny, wet duckling who probably spent the whole night sitting on it. Luckily for the duckling, being smart enough to stay on the skimmer, out of the water and cold night air, ended up saving her life. Because of her remarkable intelligence, we named her after the smartest person we could think of in that moment; Albert Einstein. (At the time we didn’t know the gender of the baby duck so we guessed it was male although she turned out to be female. She was later renamed Abby by my aunt.)
So for the next few weeks, Mama and Abby lived in our pool. They both eventually learned how to use the ramp we made out of a piece of wood tied to some pool noodles and also used an old boogie board tied to a brick as a resting place/raft so stray cats and coyotes wouldn’t eat them at night. We put out water for them and after calling several local wildlife rehab centers and animal control and emailing various wildlife and duck rescue organizations, it turned out that it is unlawful to remove them or even just “shoo” them away. So, they proceeded to turn our pool into a giant duck pond that was gradually getting greener with each passing day as more duck “waste” collected and Abby continued to grow. We did our best to clean it but duck poop disintegrates almost immediately and we couldn’t add chlorine out of concern for their safety so algae also began to grow. After about 2-3 weeks, our pool was heading to the point of no return so we decided to invest in some plastic kiddie pools. Thankfully, Abby couldn’t fly until she was about 3 months old so the two of them would stay on the opposite side of the pool fence on the grass.
Since Mama and Abby only left the yard occasionally to go on strolls around the cul-de-sac, which was dangerous because of the risk of them getting hit by a car or attacked by a cat/coyote, we had to supply them with a source of food. After talking with the local wildlife rehab facility, they recommended feeding them chicken scratch/mash (a ground up, powdery seed mixture). Now, since we live in the concrete-filled, Southern California suburbs, chicken mash isn’t sold at our local Petsmart. In fact, city ordinances don’t even allow you to keep domestic fowl without a permit. Fortunately, after calling several local, non-commercial pet stores, we actually found one that carried chicken feed sold by the pound. So, for the next 3 months, we made a trip every week to Pet Supply in order to pick up a few pounds of chicken feed for Abby and Mama. As a Abby began to grow, we also realized that it was important for her to learn skills that she would need in order to survive upon her return to the “wild”. Therefore, we began tossing thawed, frozen corn into their pools and onto the grass to encourage foraging and when she was about 1 month old, we began throwing live goldfish and minnows into their pools to help her learn to fish. This skill was especially important because many of the local ducks live in the drainage canal and we frequently see them eating the small mosquito fish (minnows).
While there are so many stories to tell about this unique pair (some of which I might share at a later time), one of my favorites is the day, what we assume was Abby’s father, decided to make a visit to Mama. We were sitting at our table eating dinner, when all of a sudden, a male duck flew in and landed in the pool where Mama was floating around as Abby took a nap in the grass. Right away it was evident that Mama was neither happy nor amused to see him and she made this vividly clear as she began quacking, fluffing herself up, chasing, and biting him. It was the equivalent, maybe even worse, of messing with a mother bear’s cubs. Apparently, abandoning your family then dropping in, uninvited, on them has the same results and outcome for multiple species. Dad eventually got the hint, after Mama managed to yank out a bill full of tail feathers, and flew off. He wisely never returned.
On July 15, 2011, just under 3 months from their arrival, Mama and Abby flew off together. It was sad to see them go but also a huge relief to know that we gave them, especially Abby, the best possible start to life we could offer. Over the past 3 years we’ve seen them both return individually and gradually less frequently. The last time we think we saw Abby was early this past spring 2014.
Below is a slideshow of some of my favorite pictures: