Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Mallard Hen in the Mall Planter

I'd just come out of Staples, gotten into my car and was heading past T.J. Max and it's planter when I noticed a Mallard hen standing on the edge of said planter in front of the store. Odd. I grabbed my camera and took her picture out the window of the car. Wait just a minute!

There are little heads bobbing around behind her. She's nested in the planter! I turn into the next parking lane. Madly pull into a spot, dump my camera bag in the floor of the car---you never know when you might need something to carry ducklings in at a moment like this, get out of the car--and get a focus on Mom Mallard.

In those few moments, a good number of ducklings seem to have made the leap from the planter to the sidewalk and are under the hen. While at least four, are lined up for the first jump or I suppose in a way, it's a duck fledging. They aren't exactly flying but they are certainly leaving the nest for good. She has to be taking them to water but where? All I can think of is the Frick hen who trots her ducklings from the Frick Museum, up the street and across Fifth Avenue to the Model Boat Pond.

Mom had been keeping an eye on me but now she is giving me her full attention.

Still at least three up top and at my count, seven with mom. One little guy is lying down, I hope he didn't hit the sidewalk wrong. Then mom takes her eye off me, turns toward the ducklings and quacks.

And here comes another! Little stubby wings spread, tiny webbed feet flailing, one more duckling pitches off the side of the planter in answer to the hen's call.

Pedestrians realize what's happening and start taking phone pix of the action. Mom quacks a few more times.

The remaining ducklings answer her but the last two seem a bit timid about actually flinging themselves off the ledge.

Note that the foremost duckling has squinched his eyes shut. He then does a run off the edge. It is very much like a human child going off the diving board at the pool for the first time.

Now not only is mom glaring but she's getting some eyeball help from her brood

One left--Mom quacks and down she comes.

And it's time to step out. Mom is in the hunched down duck offensive position, just in case she has to make a run at me. Having had a duck hen take after me as a kid, I can report that when they come at you at speed, it's very scary and those bills can really give a nasty pinch.

Hen checks out the road and evidently decides it's okay to cross but all I can think about are CARS!

Half way across the right lane...

...the cars have stopped.

and Mom marches across the left lane with her ten little ones.

Okay she's out of this road , so I get out of this road too.

Mom is out of her hunched offensive position. Evidently stopping cars has made her decide I'm not as bad as I might be. In fact, maybe I'm okay. Besides a duck that nests in a planter, is not only a duck who is desperate for a nest site, but also a somewhat human habituated duck.

Mom is wily. She's leads the ducklings to the nearest row of parked cars.

And she walks them under the tail of first car. Can't get hit by a parked car, can one? Mom seems to have put her time on the nest to good use and has figured out a few things about parked cars.

They head for the shelter of the second car, walk under it...

...then head for the third.

She continues to lead them under the cars in the line on the right. And when there are no longer any more cars on the right...

...she turns left...

...crosses the road...

...and continues the maneuver with the cars on the left.

In the empty spaces she has led them even further left and they are passing under the cars further to the front.

And when the gutter opens up, she leads them down that path. Where's the water?

That's no gutter that's a duck path. And Mom, her posture has changed, in human terms perhaps we'd call it "relief", is now standing tall and heading confidently--where?

Still marching down the duck path, I look towards the feeder road and AH HA!--kitty corner across the street is long grass and are those reeds? A pond?

But also more cars. Mom doesn't look bothered a bit.

Wily hen, decides to go up on the median. The ducklings will have to make the curb but it cuts distance off a diagonal walk across the street and will turn the cross to a shorter and therefore less dangerous one, side to side.

The mom call and duckling responses continue. The first three seem to automatically do the right thing when it comes to curb mounting. The rest stand and watch a moment.

Just stretching doesn't quite do it.

You've got to add some hop.

Everybody jumps.

More duckling calls.

Two left. It's interesting that the last ducklings become more and more frantic as there are fewer ducklings at the hard spot. And because they are frantic, they gain the necessary energy to do what has to be done.

The last two make it up the curb.

And once there, stand up straight and hot foot it to the group.

Mom waits for everyone to join her.

Then they are off the other side of the median and crossing the feeder road. I stop the traffic in both directions. Mom doesn't hunch over this time. It's almost like she has now turned the car watching job over to me and isn't giving it another thought.

Almost there. Some of the people seem to think I'm just standing in the road taking pictures and blocking their way for no reason. I point out the ducks. Oh!

I let the cars go and the ducklings meet their second curb.

Mom waits while calling to them. It's a duckling pyramid. Some of the ducklings watch the cars go past. Hmm. A kind of duckling A.D.D moment.

Mom calls again and they remember what they're supposed to be doing and become more serious about getting over the curb. Duckling on the left takes quite the header.

He looks a little dazed. Either that or I've suddenly become far more interesting. Which I doubt.

Big jumps and lots of baby quacks.

Dazed Duckling is still looking my way while the other's focus on mom or the curb.

One duckling frantically calls to mom, while the one who just made the curb, takes off at a run.

The remaining ducklings get ready...

...two look like they'll make it but the last takes rather a nasty looking fall.

They scramble in another attempt while the last rights himself...

...and stares into space.

Eight and Nine seem to have reached the summit but Ten is still staring.

Mom quacks and Ten seems to focus or at least turn his head in the right direction.

Where is everybody?

This brings out a burst of baby quacks from Ten and everybody on the other side quacks back. Somehow this really livens him up. (Remember when Samantha was fostoring the three orphaned ducklings and two went in to shock? The third got out of the box and started quacking and his calls seemed to have brought the other two out of shock. Does it trigger something hormonal? An adrenolin rush of some kind?)

Whatever it is, it works. Ten makes the curb.

And everyone marches off towards the long grass and disappears into it.

I run around to the right and there it is--The pond! I keep going.

And I get round in time to see everyone lined up, all ten safe and sound with mom in the lead, swimming like, well like ducks taking to water.

Now if I were going to anthropomorphosize I'd say that Wily Hen was giving me a duck smile. But I won't say that as that's something you can decide for yourself.

Then she turns and heads to the far side of the pond. It is very late for ducklings so I'd say she had a first failed nest and this is her second try of the season. I'm thinking she just might come back to that planter next year all things being equal.

And as we know that many young birds return to their natal territory to nest, and may copy the placement of the nest they hatched in, like Pale Male, Wily Hen may be starting a whole new trend. But this time instead of nesting on buildings it's the multi-use of urban mall planters.

Donegal Browne