This morning while I was doing chores I heard a loud, insistent peeping cry coming from the area of an apple orchard about 150 ft from the barn. Just two days ago I put the newest chick hatch in the barn and the babies are now 10 days old. Fearing one had somehow gotten out and been chased, as any mother would, I went searching for the baby. Closing in on the peeping brought me to an area of grass up to 3 ft high, part of the hayfield. As I got near, the calling stopped.
I stood for a bit and heard the cries again, coming from the grass. So I searched all through the tall grass making mother hen noises, but the baby didn’t respond. I stopped and waited. Tiny muted peeps sounded very near. Finally I found the source, hidden in the grass. A baby duck!
What in the world is a tiny duckling doing so far from any water? There was no mother duck in sight or earshot. The baby appeared perfectly healthy with no sign of injury. It was a strong, active bird, taking every opportunity to try and slip from my hand. This duckling was too young to survive on its own. It didn’t even have any feathers, only down.
Before calling the wildlife rehabilitators, I decided to investigate on my own. The nearest water was our farm pond, about 300 ft away. I had seen ducks there during the spring, but had never seen a hen with a brood in our pond at any time. This seemed unlikely since the pond is only 1/6 acre, not very large.
Cradling the duckling, I hiked to the pond. All appeared quiet. The only birds in evidence were a pair of very angry red-winged blackbirds loudly scolding. I was undoubtedly getting far too close to their nest hidden among the cattails. Suddenly there was movement in the flotsam on the far side of the pond. Then a hen mallard duck and her brood emerged from the weeds. What do you know?! A family of ducks was calling our pond home!
Careful to move slowly and not frighten the ducks, I carried the baby to a spot close to its mother and released it. The duckling practically flew across the surface of the water, it swam so fast, peeping all the while for mama. And mother duck called back with a low quacking. Soon the family was reunited. That baby was one lucky duck!
The best explanation I can find for having a duckling so far from its mother was that a predator, likely a bird such as a hawk or raven, picked the baby up off the pond. Using the same survival skills it demonstrated while I was restraining it, the baby may have played dead causing the predator to relax its grip. The little duck could then twist and slip from the predator’s talons to drop into the tall grass. Far from mom and the pond.
The duckling is one of many wild birds that I have saved from imminent death over the years. It has been my privilege to also rescue an owl, a bald eagle, a hummingbird and several song birds. I’m delighted to have wild ducks live at our pond. What fun it will be to watch them grow and to share the sight with my granddaughters! I was thinking of taking my kayak out in the pond for a paddle, but I guess that will have to wait.