Ducking danger

Newly hatched mallards rescued from city traffic

May 30, 2008|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun reporter

Drivers on Pratt Street never had to make way for ducklings yesterday.

Scrambling to prevent a mama mallard from walking 11 newly hatched offspring across the busy downtown thoroughfare from their nest in a sidewalk planter, animal rescuers whisked the babies off to a Baltimore County wildlife shelter - leaving their frantic mother to fly off alone.

"She's probably going to re-clutch again, someplace else, I hope," said Gerda Deterer, president of Wildlife Rescue, Inc., near Hampstead, where the ducklings were taken.

The tawny hen's city residence outside the Capital Grille must have seemed safe enough when she established the nest. The dirt in the concrete planter was soft, and the nest was shaded by the boughs of a young cedar.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of humans hustled past her every day on their way to and from work, or to lunch, but few seemed to notice her during the month she spent incubating her eggs.

She didn't even seem to mind the traffic on Pratt Street, roaring by just a few feet away.

Best of all, her eggs had done nicely. Only one stubborn sibling remained shell-bound yesterday amid the crowd of peeping ducklings that popped up beneath her wings.

But there was reason to worry. Within hours, Mama Duck was likely to try to march her new brood off for their first meal -- probably in the harbor slip beside the Power Plant. So near, yet so far.

"She's gonna want to walk them to the water. She's gonna try to cross Pratt Street," warned Kathleen Woods, of the Phoenix Wildlife Center, Inc., an animal rehab facility in Baltimore County. "It's a cute story that doesn't have a good ending."

Woods may have been alluding to Make Way for Ducklings, the popular 1941 illustrated children's book by Robert McCloskey that told the fictional tale of a family of ducklings raised in Boston.

The Baltimore duck family's best chance to stay together would have been for someone to carry the ducklings to the water and let Mama follow, said Terry Moritz, a waterfowl expert and rescuer in Anne Arundel County.

"Scoop them up in an open box so she can hear them peeping, and walk it across the street," she said. "She'll follow."

Or maybe not.

"In Baltimore City there's so much noise, Mom doesn't hear the babies," Deterer said. "And nine out of 10 times ... they wind up getting killed," flying or waddling into traffic.

There was also worry that the ducklings hadn't had enough time to acquire the feather oils needed to make them waterproof and keep them warm and afloat in the water.

So, Deterer called the city's Bureau of Animal Control, which summoned the nonprofit Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, Inc., which sent a crew to Pratt Street.

Just before 2 p.m., only minutes after she arrived, BARCS rescuer Melinda McWilliams had rounded up all 11 yellow-brown chicks, plopped them into a wire cage, and plucked the last egg from the nest. They all headed back to the agency's shelter.

By the time Deterer's people had picked them up there later in the afternoon, there were 12 ducklings to transport to the county.

Also en route to the shelter yesterday afternoon was another duckling, scooped from the harbor by a trash boat in Canton, Deterer said.

"We'll have to raise them until they grow up, when they'll be able to preen and care for themselves and go back into the wild," she said. The process takes about eight weeks.

It's too bad about Mama Duck, she agreed. But "most duck moms have so many babies, only one or two out of a clutch would survive. This way ... they're all safe and sound."

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

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