Surrounded by downy hatchlings - seven little balls of fluff that huddled close beneath - she was protective, but unwilling to move very far. Brush and water were close by; had this mother mallard become so tame that she had no fear at all? For herself, perhaps, but highly unlikely when it came to her newly-hatched babes.
Camped in Yakima that brilliant May morning, as we’d been for several days, a group of us were there to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity. It had been a great week, and the men were taking the morning off to work hard at a little R & R. In the less-busy-than-usual morning someone noticed her.
The Yakima River flowed just below the levee that bordered our camp and several large ponds made up a portion of the campground. As might be expected, ducks wandered in to patrol and beg for food and were accustomed to people.
Quietly observing her, I became aware of a sound - tiny incessant peeps - coming from somewhere nearby. “Ah-hah!” I thought. I’m usually fairly observant, but this nest eluded me. Even when the peeps were the loudest, I still could not pinpoint exactly where it was. Gazing up into the branches of a huge cottonwood, it finally occurred to me that it was in the tree - about 15 feet up! A cavity between large branches provided the perfect, safe spot. She did not want to leave until all her young were together, and since the ones beneath her couldn’t go back up, she was waiting until the last few came down. Down came one with a soft plop, landing not far from where I stood. It sat there stunned for a few minutes, then made a beeline for mama.
Eventually, concern for the eight on the ground won her over, and she led them away - out of sight and hearing range as one of the remaining two took the leap. Following its plaintive peeps, I found it huddled amid thick brush near the swift-flowing Yakima. Soon it was in the water, hiding among branches along the shore. I rushed back to camp, returning with a large fish net and a friend. Not at all sure there was anything we could do, I felt compelled to try. With much maneuvering, and a quick, luckily-placed scoop, we hauled it in. Untangling it from the net, I luckily found its family near the pond. It raced to its quacking mom, who nibbled it gently and accepted it.
Later that day, a campground worker climbed a tall ladder to rescue the final duckling, which had not yet gotten the nerve to bail out. It seems that same duck nests in that tree every year, but this was the first time he’d “rescued” any. Gently handing it to me, he asked if I’d take it to where I had taken the last one. I was happy to do so.
The following day, our last in Yakima, I wandered around the pond to see if I could find the duck family. I believe I did - a devoted pair, but with only 7 babes now. The world is a dangerous place for the young - perhaps only one or two will ultimately survive. Against all odds, good parents do whatever they can.
Keep me as the apple of your eye,
hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who assail me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.
Psalm 17: 8-9
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27: 5