The Mallard Nest
By Sandra Fischer
The sweet smell of freshly cut grass filled the air, and I was peacefully admiring the daffodils standing at attention with their yellow-trumpet-shaped blossoms announcing spring’s arrival in Indiana. Suddenly I jumped in alarm as a large bird erupted and flew from a nearby evergreen shrub. Shutting down the mower, my husband yelled, "That was a female mallard; I'll bet she's nesting in there."
Cautiously, we approached and peeking into the bush we found five oval eggs tucked in among twigs and leaves. After the yard work was completed, we kept watch from the house for her return. Soon, she cautiously made her way back, followed soon thereafter by her mate bringing food. Each day after that April afternoon, we were careful not to startle her and we made sure that our Welsh Terrier, Murphy, was leashed and kept clear of the shrub.
We watched the protective male come and go and our excitement grew as we anticipated the arrival of ducklings. This soon yielded to disappointment, however, when one morning we found the nest abandoned with only broken shells remaining. Either a raccoon or a neighbor's dog must have destroyed the eggs.
Later that summer, we noticed the pair swimming alone on our lake, while other ducks boasted offspring trailing behind. We shared the story with a Ducks Unlimited friend who told us to watch for them again next year as they habitually nest in the same area.
That didn't make sense to me given the circumstances, but when spring returned, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard also arrived and chose to take up residence in the same bush. This time there were eight eggs, and I agonized over their future. How could we protect them? Our Ducks Unlimited friend said, "Let nature to take its course – some ducks survive and some don’t."
But I wasn’t content with that, especially when the ducks in question were setting up housekeeping on our property. I felt compelled to protect them. Both the friend and my husband were amused at my idea to interfere with nature’s design by trying to shelter them.
Resolute, I headed for the hardware store. I bought green plastic-coated wire fencing and low gauge wire for seaming it. I cut and wrapped, shaping a dome to fit over the shrub. I even fashioned a door so the hen could have access. My plan was to keep the door open during the day when we could supervise the nest and then close it at night.
The hen finally reappeared and waddled through the screened opening. It seemed to be working! She must have sensed that her landlady had made some property improvements in her favor, because each morning she allowed me to approach the nest. I would crouch down and look to see if she was there. Speaking in soft reassuring tones, I asked her how things were going and if she was bored or restless. She seemed content, and I was happy to know that she appeared to be safe.
My husband watched the proceedings with disdain, but I felt sorry for him in a way. By virtue of his gender, he simply could not identify with the "mothering" instinct that bonded me with that female duck. He also voiced his concern that the neighbors would think I had gone "Looney Tunes" when they observed me talking to an evergreen. To derail that notion, I shared the project with them and they kindly accepted my explanation and even became interested themselves.
"How’s your family?" they would ask, meaning the ducks of course. And I happily reported that the Mrs. was still egg-sitting, and we were anxiously waiting for the blessed event.
Mother’s Day arrived and after church we returned home. My husband walked the dog, but when he came into the house, his downcast face betrayed his message.
"I checked the duck nest," he said, "and something destroyed the eggs again."
"Perhaps they hatched," I offered hopefully.
"I don’t think so. They look the same as last year."
Just then, the phone rang.
"Congratulations!" our neighbor Ellie sang out. "You’re a mother. The ducklings must have hatched this morning, because we saw them marching toward the lake."
My voice choked, "How many?"
"Six or seven," she said. "You might see them swimming along the shore. One of them couldn’t keep up, though, so they left it behind."
"Where is it?" I asked.
"It’s next door at the Roush’s. If you hurry, you can see it."
"They hatched!" I yelled as I fairly flew out the door and ran across the yard where I found Alan Roush with a plastic bucket lined with a towel. I saw the ball of yellow fuzz for a brief moment as he scooped it up with a Frisbee and put it into the bucket.
"I’m taking some guests for a pontoon ride, so I will try to find its family and reunite them"
I returned home to find my husband smiling. "Did you see them?" he asked.
"Only the straggler. Alan Roush is going to take it to find its family."
"Well, you did it," he said. "I never thought such a crazy idea would work, but I’m glad it did."
Hours passed before Alan called to say that they had found the brood and released the duckling. "At first, as he paddled toward the hen, she turned away … then, she must have recognized him, because she turned back, stretched out her wing and pulled him in. It was amazing."
I thanked him and wiped my eyes. That night I savored the blessing of our involvement in helping the ducks. It wasn’t a big thing, but it reminded me of how life is really made up of many such small considerations.
The mallard family paraded by our house frequently that spring, like a small flotilla on display. One day, the whole troop came up into the yard to feed on the scattered seed left from our birdfeeders. It was as if the parents wanted to show the young ones their birthplace.
We moved before the following spring, but I did hear that the mallards had come back again. They must have known that we weren’t there, though, because they nested in a neighbor’s shrubbery, but I never heard if they hatched another brood or not.
I think of them whenever I see mallard families swimming in the lagoon by our new home, and I have the strongest urge to ask, "Would you happen to be related to a couple I once knew who had an evergreen home in Indiana?"
Sandra Fischer taught high school English in Indiana before owning a bookstore for several years. Most of her writing is devoted to stories from her experiences growing up in the Midwest. She has been published in Guideposts and several trade journals. Having retired in 2001, Sandra lives in South Carolina with her husband, Craig, where she continues to write. You can contact Sandra via the Letters page of this magazine.
Send this Page To a friend!