Thursday morning was just like any other during this long, hot and rainy Summer of 2021. As I got dressed and ready to leave on my walk, the weatherman was detailing our potentially severe weather and projected inch or so of rain for later that afternoon. The dew point and humidity were both at 75 and it was already 71F (22 C). Ugh! I dressed as light as I could and still be deemed respectable.
It was about 8:15 a.m. when I was almost to Council Point Park, at the point where Pagel Avenue and New York Avenue converge, when I saw her. Or perhaps I should say I heard her. Mama Mallard was pacing nervously in the street and near the sewer grate as two very tiny ducklings marched lockstep with her. Sometimes she was quacking while pacing.
Next, after Mama circled around the sewer grate, she peered inside.
From my vantage point, this told me all I needed to know … some of her ducklings had fallen through the sewer grate and into the sewer. Here is a close-up of the culprit.
I stepped over and peered into the grate, where I saw a dark pool of water below. Several of Mama’s offspring were paddling, emitting tiny nervous peeps and squeaks that were intensified by the hollow opening. I bent down closer and could see two, maybe three, ducklings swimming around. When I looked over, Mama had stopped in her tracks with a gaze that implored me to do something to save her babies.
I turned to her and tried to calm her down, speaking softly by saying “Sweetie, I feel your pain – I’ll help you get your ducklings out.”
Pausing and pacing …
I have the Lincoln Park police phone number memorized so I called. When I got through to Central Dispatch, I am positive the desk officer heard Mama and her down-under brood quacking. I gave her the location and said I’d wait. She told me that was unnecessary, but I waited anyway, thinking I could console Mama, plus step closer to the grate. I was a Nervous Nellie watching Mama as she paced, not only around the grate but OVER it. The ducklings, on the heels of her wide, webbed feet, had a difficult time keeping up with her stride and a couple of times they lost their balance, almost sliding through the grate to join their siblings. For about twenty more minutes, Mama paced, the ducklings paced and I sneaked a peek down each side street to assure Mama and myself that help was still on the way. She paused at the sewer grate each “lap” she made and kept quacking and her brood in the sewer serenaded me as I peered in. Here are a few pictures. I ask you … who could walk away from this duckling dilemma?
Just then, a woman pulled over in her vehicle to ask if I was okay. I pointed at Mama and her pair of ducklings and filled her in on the story. The woman, whose name is Jae, returned a few minutes later to join me in my “watch” and by then a few other folks meandered over as well, prompting Mama to move across the street, away from the commotion and she positioned herself on a neighbor’s front lawn to watch and wait.
Well, isn’t that just ducky?!
One woman had brought a crowbar and lifted the grate and pushed it aside in less than a minute, so we clustered around for a better look. Meanwhile, just down the street, Rudy had been mowing his lawn and saw us and came over to scope out the situation. He went home and got a laser light, a pool skimmer and his wife Janis returned with him. The pool skimmer was lowered into the hole.
Rudy then pondered the next move.
He tested the depth of the sewer water with a crowbar and deemed it was safe, so he stepped into the hole.
With the skimmer, he was able to grab one duckling, but it flopped around like a fish and escaped … twice! So a Plan “B” was needed. Rudy asked Janis to bring his rubber boots and a net – he figured he had a better chance to nab those babies by slipping right down into the hole. Now there’s a woman on a mission.
Rudy donned the rubber boots and without further ado lowered himself into the sewer hole.
Once Rudy was in the sewer hole, we were all hovering over him like a surgical team during a life-and-death operation, holding or passing along surgical instruments, only these “instruments” were a laser light, or a net. Soon we had the first capture. As Rudy dipped the net and caught a duckling, he carefully brought it to the surface. There was a round of cheers and like an assembly line, one woman passed the net to another and she grabbed the duckling from the net and set it free.
Look at that duckling run to Mama! Its beak is open – what was it saying? Mama came into the street to greet it and nuzzled her baby with her beak.
A second duckling rescue happened within minutes. You can see her brood growing.
Mama marched back over to the lawn. She had great expectations. So did we, thus we stayed on task at the sewer hole because we still heard squeaks and peeps.
Meanwhile, the plot thickened with this duckling drama!
Jae’s daughter Gabrielle kept an eye on the little family and stayed close to Mama to ensure she didn’t cross the street with her ducklings in all the excitement and be hurt by a vehicle.
While standing guard, Gabrielle heard some peeping coming from another sewer grate and alerted us.
Everyone hurried over.
Sure enough, the ducklings had paddled from one area to another! What to do? Rudy pulled off the second sewer grate and got down closer to look for ducklings. As you can see, this opening was much narrower and had encrusted cement on the sides. We could hear them, but couldn’t see them.
The Ordinance Control truck pulled up just then and Officer Horvath hopped out.
Officer Horvath had parked the vehicle near the first sewer hole which we had now abandoned, so he joined us at the second hole, toting a large black net. Your Roving Reporter asked him “how often do you have to rescue ducklings?” His response was “more than you know.” There were now eight of us peering into this sewer and meanwhile, Mama, patiently awaited the rest of her family.
Hmm – how could we lure the remaining ducklings to the open hole?
Rudy went home, then returned, toting a five-gallon bucket of water, hoping to flush the remaining ducklings closer to the entrance of the hole, while Gabrielle pulled out her smartphone, Googled “duck noises” then put her phone close to the open hole, all to no avail. One women ran and grabbed a duckling right from under Mama’s nose, er … beak, then slipped it into the small orange net. She had to cover the top to keep it from escaping. As she held it close to the opening, this duckling rebelled with squeaky quacks and it was sheer magic as its siblings paddled over immediately. [Hmm – would this duckling pictured below be a duckling whisperer?]
A few dips with Officer Horvath’s big net and all ducklings were presumably accounted for.
Reunited and it feels so good.
Five ducklings were rescued and returned to Mama; our mission was complete, as far as we could tell. We were confident there were no more peeps and squeaks coming from the sewer. Mama, hightailed it from the crowd, waddling down Pagel Avenue, her seven ducklings behind her in a neat queue. She left without a flourish, no “see ya” or “thanks for saving my babies” … but that was okay too. She was probably heading to Council Point Park, just a block away.
But … Mama needed an abacus it seems.
Our little group, strangers really … a mixture of neighbors from both blocks, two walkers and Officer Horvath, visited after the ordeal, then dispersed (or so I thought). It was 9:22 a.m. and late for me, but I wanted to get to the Park and feed the critters and get at least one loop walked, as an all-day rain was predicted for Friday. I looked for Mama and her brood thinking they had a head start on me, but surely I’d catch up with them. I never saw them though.
On the way home, Jae saw me, pulled over to the curb and rolled the window down. She said “guess what – after you left we found another duckling; the Ordinance Officer fished it out. We looked everywhere for Mama and her ducklings, even in backyards and they were nowhere!” I told her I had not seen them at the Park either. She said “I guess my daughter will keep the duckling if she cannot find the Mama.” Jae promised to keep me apprised when she sees me walking down the street and I will message her on Facebook through our City Neighborhood forum to send this post. I know Michigan Duck Rescue and Sanctuary will also give that Mallard munchkin a good home if/when Junior gets too big for Gabrielle to handle.
Query: Why didn’t Mama take a head count of her brood? Just askin’.