Nature and animals have always been a major part of my life. I live on a corner in the foothills bordering Topanga State Park, California, from which we have rescued dogs, cats, baby crows, several sets of hummingbirds, possum, and now my duck story.
The Duck Story
About 6-8 weeks ago a Mallard male and female pair started coming to our pool almost every day. They would hang around for hours in the afternoon and then fly away at night.
I was pretty sure they had mated and now the female seemed to be looking for a place to nest.
Two weeks later I had my trees trimmed, with the landscapers’ promise to be on the lookout and that they would come to me if they found any nests. The next day they came across the female duck apparently sitting on a nest and steered clear. When she was away I checked out the spot and it seemed to be a good one, nicely hidden at the base of a huge eucalyptus tree behind some bamboo: a salad-bowl sized nest, thickly lined and feathered with her down, cradling thirteen bluish eggs.
I had no idea how long she had been sitting on the eggs (it takes 28-30 days for ducklings to hatch) but I decided to keep an eye on the little mother and her clutch of eggs. Every day about dusk she would take a bath in the pool before she would sit all night on the nest. This went on for many days. I would talk to her softly as I checked her out. I like to think she got to know me. After all, she chose our house, our pool, our garden to brood her young.
Amazingly, one morning there she was in the pool with all thirteen chicks swimming in tight formation around her. I’d learned the chicks can easily get waterlogged and drown if they can’t get out of the water as their oily feather coating hadn’t yet developed so I worried that they wouldn’t be able to hop out of the pool. I made a couple ramps out of chaise legs and towels and while some did manage to jump out, others struggled and failed until they found one of the ramps. Mama led them out of the yard that day and they were gone, on to their lives in the world.
A couple weeks ago, she was back. Though it was late in the season, she could very well lay more eggs so I kept an eye out for signs.
Last Friday after midnight around one o’clock in the morning I was awakened by a loud quacking.I heard right away that it wasn’t a normal quack. This was a distressed quacking. I ran outside and Mama duck was very upset. I knew right away what was wrong. I woke my husband, “Dan, come out and bring the big flash light.” We rushed to the back yard where the nest was and the flashlight revealed my worst nightmare. There was a fox with a ducking in its mouth. I yelled something at it and it dropped the baby. I rushed to pick it up. It was barely alive. This precious baby ripped from its shell. Its eyes opened, trying to live, but then the eyes closed. It died in my hand, fully formed, but never to swim with its mother. I was overcome with grief! What about the nest? Frantically, I pushed past all the leaves. The nest was empty! What happened? Where had they gone? I tried to think.
Either there was one egg in the nest or the fox had wiped it out.
I went back to mama. She was still quacking, an incessant and plaintive squawk.. I put the dead baby by the side of the pool so she might see it, but I don’t know that she did. She quacked all night long. I suffered with her. I was sure she had been terrified by the fox, and that she had fled for her life.
The next morning I buried the baby. Mama stayed all day. At one point she flew to the top of our meditation house, which overlooked the yard with her nest. I watched as she disappeared. “Oh, no, I thought, she was checking the nest. I watched from behind the closed door as this little duck mother to be, waddled through the whole yard looking for her babies. I cried tears of anguish as she tilted her little head to look around each bush and found nothing. She returned to the pool for a while and then flew off. She has been back the last few days, but I know sooner or later she will fly south with the rest of the mother ducks who have sat patiently on nests only to be robbed of their young by yet another predator.
She has shown me again how quickly life can turn. She is a young mother of nature who knows it well, but she seems to always come back quacking. Was she quacking to me? Surely not. But I received the communication and it affected me and I got involved and that is what life is all about.
Embrace the World Around You
We professionals are driven, always advancing our agendas, shaking the world. Communication often reads as “what we say, how we say it, how well we’re understood.” It ALSO means receiving communication from those around us, even if it’s difficult or painful. Communicating with Nature is rich, thick with undeniable truth. It’s humbling and inspiring. We naturally project our needs, desires and visions onto our experiences. This helps us understand and our place in the world.
I share the painful reality of this story to invite you to keep communicating who you are fully and joyfully AND to embrace the larger world around you (even in your back yard)—and Listen.
Wishing you all the best of life and nature,