Here's What I Think About That

Picking Up and Letting Go


Unexpected summer house guests come in many forms, but this one was truly wild.

A peaceful afternoon erupted into utter madness outside as a screaming mother duck frantically chased her duckling brood with a hawk on her tail in hot pursuit.

Running straight toward our house, the ducklings turned hard to the left followed by their mama, and kept on going. But one duckling made the mistake of turning right instead of left and ran straight inside our enclosed front porch through the wide open door.

Like most predators, the hawk had its eyes focused on its prey and banked a hard right to snatch the solo duckling.

But the hawk crash-landed inside the porch. Either it missed seeing the duckling in hiding or was too startled by its circumstances to care. Momentarily confused, the hawk recovered its wits and flew out and away.

All this happened in a matter of seconds.

It was my son who found the tiny duckling, scooped it up, and went about looking to reunite it with its family. They were nowhere to be found. They disappeared as quickly as they showed up.

So, there stood my son, with the duckling safely cupped in his hands. He looked at me and said, smiling, “Meet Larry.”

My first words were, “Don’t even think about naming it. It’s a wild animal. Becoming attached will break your heart. Trust me, I know.”

He replied, “Yeah, sure Mom.”

We found a cardboard box to put him in temporarily. Then there was a dash to the drive-through feed store for something to give the little guy to eat. We bought a bulb for a heat lamp to keep him warm. He was that small.

I had experience with rescued baby birds after several years working at a wildlife rescue center. Unlike many of the nestlings people brought in that required careful hand-feeding every 30 minutes during daylight hours, baby ducks and geese begin foraging for themselves within days of hatching.

We discussed taking him to a wildlife rescue but convinced ourselves there was a chance his mother might return if only she heard his voice.

It didn’t take long before I realized I was referring to it as “him” and not only that, but I also found myself calling him Larry. I knew better, I really did, but could not stop myself. My husband and son teased me, seeing I was completely obsessed with him.

At night he slept inside the cardboard box lined with a towel and some fleece loosely folded for nestling. During the day he needed to be outside in his natural environment with the ability to move around safely. But he could run surprisingly fast and had to be contained or we’d lose him to the underbrush.

Young Larry spent his days in a see-through Marmot Tungsten Ultralight 2-person tent. With a protective liner on the tent floor, we turned the space into a wild duckling play park.

For natural foraging, I lined the floor each morning with fresh ferns, along with all the tiny bugs and spiders they carried. I dug up several big clumps of tall grass for him to hide in, just like he would find growing along the edges of ponds. There were shallow cake pans filled with water to hold the buttercup plants I pulled for the roots ducks like to nibble on. I placed a variety of rocks for him to climb.

As for water, ducks need lots. To recreate the outdoors inside his tent, the best thing I had on hand was a roasting pan normally used for deep-dish vegetarian lasagna. It too had rocks in it, but enough space for him to practice swimming and catching floating bugs. He took to it like a duck to water.

It was about that time I realized I was out of hand. I began catching every housefly I could find. I dropped flies into his pool, and they didn’t last but seconds before he ate them. I resorted to other bugs and spider eggs. I was on the hunt.

I confess to taking tons of photos and short videos. I’ve seen a lot of cute things in my life, but this little mallard duckling? He slayed me.

A week went by. Each time we thought we might have heard a duck, we raced outside hoping it was Larry’s mom. The longer we had him, the more I realized how many predators there are around here waiting to pick him off. I lay awake at night with this awesome responsibility to protect that I could never fulfill.

Then I made the call to West Sound Wildlife Shelter, as I should have from the beginning. They had other ducklings his age and space for him too. That last night before he left, we cuddled for half an hour before he went to bed. It was something that started when he first arrived. He seemed to appreciate, even long for being close, and made no attempt to get away.

I may never understand what made me cry when he left. We often help our friends and total strangers and feel better about doing it. I’m not sure we did Larry any favors, but I have to believe that extending that sense of kinship to all living things makes for a better world.