The first Sunday in May 2020 during the spring of COVID-19, I walk out the backdoor of the garage, down the slab steps and around the southwest corner of the house. A bird of some kind flies up right in front of my face, scaring the hell out of both of us. A half hour or so later, the critter that I now recognize as a duck is back on the patio. This time she walks away. I worry she may be hurt. I call Tracy Aviary. They refer me to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. The staff tells me how to catch the duck with a towel and transport it in a box if necessary. I worry I will injure it further. They assure me I will cause less damage than a dog or a cat that happens on an injured bird, who by now has waddled out to the park strip, hunkering down in the shade of a flowering plum, blending in with the shredded bark. They wonder if the duck is a female. I know by the mottled feathers that she is. She may be nesting.
Two days later, in the morning, I open the sliding glass door, step onto the landing and start down the stairs to the patio with my coffee. I am halfway down the stairs, nearing the southwest corner of the house, and the duck flies up again, startling me again. I retreat apologizing and assuring her I will be more careful. Within fifteen minutes, she has returned to the patio at the base of the stairs. I have already looked in the Corydalis growing at the foundation of the house. I see she has pushed aside plants and started a nest just a foot or so from the Tarragon at the corner. I call the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center again. They tell me she will take a week or ten days to build the nest and lay her eggs, then another 30 days to sit and hatch. We do not need to feed her. I learn to carefully peek around the corner to check on progress. In time she lays three eggs which seem to disappear a day or two later. I think she flew the nest, again. Then she lays five more eggs, and I realize she has a two-step nest. Eventually, all eight eggs are arranged in the more formal nest. She covers the eggs when she flies off each evening for an hour or so.
When I am out moving about the yard, if I need to get from the south end of the back yard to the north end of the backyard, I go out the gate across the front of the yard through the other gate and into the northside. Repeating as necessary. Robert and I often sit outside in the afternoon and evening reveling in the welcome distraction the duck provides our COVID-confinement.
I create a Face Book page for Mother Ducky so our grandkids can track her progress. Robert learns to communicate with Mother Ducky or at least to give her a warning of his presence. He clicks his tongue when he descends the stone steps, making his passage to the north end of the backyard along the fence, away from the house. When the weather turns unseasonably hot at the end of May, Robert clicks his tongue to Mother Ducky as he puts up a patio umbrella to give her shade. The first of June I call the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center again. What do we do when the baby ducks hatch? Nothing. They will stay near the nest a day or two and then mama will walk them to water. “Water is nearly a mile away!” I exclaim. I am thinking of the pond near the golf course.
“That’s about right. By the time she gets the ducklings there in two or three days, they will be strong enough to swim and not drown.”
After the first Sunday in June, I get anxious, expecting ducklings any day. At the end of the week, it rains for two days. Mama and the eggs have little protection. We worry when we see her standing close to the foundation during the rain. On the second Sunday in June, the skies have cleared and early in the morning Mother Ducky and any possible ducklings are gone before we even see them. Two eggs remain in the nest. There are no empty shells. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center tells me that mama carries the empty shells away so as not to attract predators. We can candle the remaining eggs to see if they are viable. They are not.
A little later that same morning, I am puttering in the front yard, plucking weeds, pinching blossoms. Movement across the street catches my eye. I cross the street to investigate. There is Mother Ducky trying to control her offspring keeping them near the neighbor’s fence. The water she is seeking is south. If she would let me walk her west one block and across the street, then she could travel south through the sunflowers, the sagebrush and the thistles bordering the fence along the open field. Her instinct is likely to go straight south where she will encounter a series of yards, fences, dogs and cats. No way to let her know. Trusting God and the Universe, I back off so as not to increase her anxiety.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center tells me that having a successful nest in 2020, she will likely return in 2021. We hope so.
I will keep you posted.