A few weeks ago, a Mallard duck decided to hatch her eggs in a nest she built only about two feet from the edge of our patio. We were about to become duckling grandparents and even announced it on Instagram! Now don’t scoff at our apparently shrinking world. Who isn’t becoming a bit unbalanced under the sheltering-in-place order?
At any rate, I named our duck mommy, “Suzi,” and visited her several times a day. Yes, I admit that may have been a bit excessive . . . but when you’re self isolating, maybe not?
To reassure her as she glared with wary eyes, I always spoke soothingly. “What a good little mommy you are, Suzi,” I cooed. “You’re doing such a good job!” Despite my gentle voice and promises we’d never hurt her, she remained stiff and immobile, her stare never wavering from my face. Perhaps my efforts to help her relax were a bit intrusive?
Once Suzi laid all seven of her eggs, she plucked out feathers to create a downy blanket and added straw. After that, on the rare occasions she left the nest, we were unable to see under that cover. As the weeks progressed, my husband and I kept marveling at God’s creation. How did she know precisely what to do?
According to our calculations, we knew roughly when the ducklings would “be born.” I hoped, and prayed fervently, that we would not miss this moment because Mallards lead their young to water within approximately ten hours of hatching.
We feared for our little duck family’s safety. Would a raccoon find the eggs and rob Suzi of motherhood? When a turkey vulture sat on our roof, staring with laser beam intensity at the nest, I stood guard on our patio. Fortunately, after a few tense minutes he flew off.
Then came the day we saw the first chick peeking out from under her wing. Then the second . . . how long would it take for all the eggs to hatch? And would we witness their first swim? The probability remained slim, but at least we’d seen this much.
The next morning I paid another visit. Suzi fluffed her wings wide but seemed to have trouble covering her brood entirely. My, what wiggling and bouncing under her feathers! The vitality of new life! Then, as I leaned in close, she suddenly started moving around. I’d never seen this behavior. What was she doing? Suddenly she hopped outside the nest, exposing six ducklings. Did she just need to stretch? Nevertheless, I raced into the house to get my phone and got back just in time to snap this photo:
Right about then I realized Suzi wasn’t planning on doing yoga, but that this was THE EVENT! Because as you can see in the picture, the babies were leaving the nest! “Honey, come quick,” I yelled, waving frantically at my husband who was gardening at the far end of the yard. “They’re taking off!” I shouted as he rushed over. Quickly I switched on the video camera.
The race to the water was on! I could see that Suzi was taking her young through the underbrush in a beeline to the lake. Guessing where she would emerge, we raced down the path to the dock. The little family soon came into view and toddled, hopped, and scooted their way down the steps. Awestruck, I followed as closely as I dared to video, keeping them carefully centered in the viewfinder.
When they waddled down the ramp onto the dock, I followed, crouching low to angle the phone just right. Suzi slipped gracefully into the water, and the little ones began to plop in beside her. But two hesitated. Suzi quacked encouragement. I crept in even closer to film. Such downy cuteness!
Once all chicks launched, Suzi quickly swam under the nearby willow tree, her brood bobbing on the rippled water behind her. Then I watched as she paddled farther and farther away along the bank, and soon they disappeared in some reeds. I stopped filming. A feeling of sadness swept over me. Would we see her again? Would the babies survive? I turned and walked up the ramp to my husband. We smiled at each other. What a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we said. How lucky we were, we said.
They were gone. All the excitement was over. But. I had my video! I was elated at the footage I’d just gotten. What presence of mind, I congratulated myself. Brilliant photography, I told myself. Those close-ups are going to be amazing! How many people get to see such an event in nature, much less pull off the film composition so well? Maybe this would go viral on Facebook!
I hit play on my video. What excellent footage of my feet as I’m racing down the path. Good. Well, okay, that section can be cut. Now here was the part where the ducks emerged from the bush . . . Wait, NOTHING??? WHAT???
Note about author: This post contributed by an incompetent, amateur, idiot-ographer who accidentally hit “stop record” at peak moment and thus extinguished a promising career in the world of film.