“Hello, this is going to sound silly but I’m calling about a couple ducks with injured legs.”
The young man answering the phone laughed.
“This is the Department of Wildlife ma’am it doesn’t sound silly.”
“Oh good, well these ducks were born in my yard and moved to the ponds behind my house. They’re eight weeks old and something’s happened to two of them. They’re struggling to keep up with the rest of their family and I’m worried.”
“Can you capture them?” he asked.
“You can’t get close enough?”
“No, they let me get close but I’m likely to hurt them more than help them.”
“Let me send out a volunteer then and we’ll see what we can do. If they can be caught we can take them to a wildlife vet.”
“Yes ma’am. Mallards are a protected species so we do our best to preserve them.”
“So I’m not crazy for calling?”
“Oh no trust me, this is the least crazy thing that’s going to happen today.”
I felt better but still a little ridiculous. How I’ve become so attached to a family of ducks continues to amaze me when I’m afraid of birds. Not from a distance but up close forget it.
This is why three years ago when a mallard starting hanging out on my doorstep, as sweet as she was, I had to relocate her. The thought of walking out and having her greet me had me going in and out through the garage.
This got cumbersome so when I couldn’t “shoo” her away I got some cracked corn to entice her into the far corner of my yard. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider I was introducing her to my crabapple tree which she loved. Her partner liked it too.
After a week of them hanging around I made my second big mistake—naming them—Penny and Lincoln. It seemed harmless but then she started building a nest and laid an egg. It’s as if she knew she’d found the one lady in the neighborhood that was a sucker for another mother.
The trouble was that summer our roof had to be torn off and this did not fare well for Penny so she abandoned the nest.
Last spring she returned to brood but I never found a nest. This spring when I wasn’t looking I came nose to bill with her sitting on one. Now Penny owned me. It was like someone had left a baby in a basket on my step. My maternal instincts went into overdrive to protect her.
My mother told me this was ill advised but my Audubon friend thought it was fine. The Department of Wildlife volunteer agreed.*
Standing with him down at the ponds he said, “You’re doing a nice job with this. I’m not sure we can do any better with the injured ones at our sanctuary. I don’t think the vet will be able to help much either. They’ve imprinted on you.”
“Yeah if they met you right after they were born and associate you as one of their caretakers they’re better off with you than us.”
“But I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah in life certain things just choose you.”
“You think?” I said.
“Absolutely, it can’t just all be random.”
“In other areas of my life I’d say I agree but with ducks I can’t be so sure.”
He laughed and fortunately our conversation was interrupted by one of the ducks quacking loudly. I wasn’t really looking for a philosophical discussion.
That was three weeks ago and as the wildlife guy predicted Penny, with a little help from me, has kept her family together and yesterday on my penny anniversary when I went to the ponds she and all her babies flew to meet me. Eight years of pennies and eight ducks who found their wings. The symmetry spoke to me.
I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the DOW guy was right. While I’d like to believe it’s random, because I don’t see myself as a conservationist, maybe I was chosen? I feel like I’ve cracked-up to consider it but after finding 28,714 pennies I know that in life some things with great value find you more than you find them.
This year a family of ducks has taught me that one of the best ways to conquer a fear is to let yourself be “chosen”, however ill-equipped you might feel. In the grand scheme of things my fear of birds has never presented a problem—but overcoming it has afforded me the wonderful opportunity to watch something take flight. It’s also reminded me that we never feel more human than we help another life beat the odds. Call me quacky but I think in the end that’s worth looking foolish.
*There’s a lot of debate about feeding ducks with the only agreement being that one should never feed them bread which I don’t. The ponds behind our house are irrigation ponds that border a wetland preserve. The preserve is meant to be a safe breeding place for the ducks, however a number of human factors have made it hard for them to be successful. In this context the wildlife folks have said feeding them a small amount of food once a day can be helpful. At a park that would not be the case.