Ghost Duck

My wife called me at work at about lunchtime on a Friday. She said she had a story to tell. It turns out that the grandmother in the Korean household next door came up to her in a state of high excitement, and through a series of pantomime, showed her where a duck had hatched about 10 ducklings in her back yard.

My wife called animal control and the Audubon society, and one of them reassured her that this is part of ducks’ annoying behavior in the suburbs. (Of course humans have all kinds of annoying behaviors in the suburbs too, such as building suburbs on top of wetlands. Or, as a nifty bumper sticker so darkly noted, “Suburbia: Where we rip up trees and name streets after them.”). Anyhow, the bird experts suggested leading the ducks to water.

So my wife and our four-year-old son got out their brooms and commenced the duckling roundup. Apparently it wasn’t that hard. Mama duck quacked and led the way, and the little ducklings, about the size of a grown-up’s fist, waddled along behind. One of the ducklings fell off the pace, and my wife picked it up. So, duck in one hand, broom in the other, they made it to the end of our street–then she engineered a safe crossing for mama duck, our son, and 10 babies.

Apparently such a parade draws a crowd, even on a weekday in the suburbs, and a fair number of neighbors and passers-by stopped to watch. One neighbor even showed my wife a cut-through so that the ducks could take a shortcut to the woods (and creek) behind his house.

Not far from the place where the ducks would hang a left and head for the water, mama duck waddled off the sidewalk and into the street. Some of her babies followed, and one of them fell through the metal grate and into the storm drain.

With the duckling trapped under the grate, my son looked to my wife, wondering how one reacted. My wife, knowing the duckling was in deep trouble, held it together, and when I heard our son tell the story, he said, “Almost all the ducklings made it.”

But it disturbed us that the duckling was trapped, and before we were scheduled to catch a train to leave for the weekend, we had about 45 minutes, which we spent trying to retrieve the duckling. We pulled off the grate and saw it twice, but it retreated into the drain pipe both times, eventually staying there.

There was a small chance it followed the drain all the way to the creek. There’s a much bigger chance it died there.

We had a nice weekend. We traveled and saw some friends in Seattle, and for most of the time I didn’t think about what happened. But for a week or two afterwards, I couldn’t go down that section of road without being reminded of it, of seeing the duck down there and being unable to rescue it.

The duckling could have made it to the woods and been eaten by coyotes the next day, and I would have been none the wiser. But to see it trapped in a maze of subterranean cement pipes, to know that it would probably die of thirst down there … that was tough to take.

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