Friday, June 19, 2009

A Duck's Tale

So, I haven't been as active here lately. As I've gotten more and more into photography, I've been spending most of my online time at a site called Deviant Art, where I have a gallery of my photos. If you're interested, you can see it by clicking here, or for an easy-to-remember url, you can simply go to (a url I was going to use for something else but never did, so I pointed it to my deviant art page).

Anyway, I'm only bringing that up because I had posted a story on that site of an encounter I had the other day with a female mallard, and I was going to post it here as well, but I've since had an update to the story, so I'm posting both here, simply because I learned something out of it, and maybe you'll learn something too, or at least maybe find it interesting. The original post was on the 16 of this month, and the update came on the 18th. Here it is:

Yesterday after work, I went to a lagoon near my house to take pictures. It's a spot I've always loved, and I've been going there a lot lately because of all of the ducks, geese, herons, seagulls and crows that are there - all things I love.

So I'm standing there taking pictures, and I see a group of male mallards on the concrete walking path all crowded around one female. I've seen this happen once before, but I've never been sure of what it was that I saw. Maybe it's part of the mating ritual - like, how the males decide who will get to mate with the female - or maybe it was something else, but I didn't at first assume it was violent.

Yesterday, however, was different. From a distance, I saw the female lamely try to get away, and the males - and one male in particular - jump right back on top of her. It didn't look like the female was a willing participant, so I started walking over there.

As I got closer, I could see that the female was in bad shape. The entire top of her head, and her entire back, were completely bare of feathers, and there was only red, raw looking skin exposed. I quickened my pace and stamped my feet as I approached to disperse the males.

As they abandoned her out of fear of me, the poor female slowly dragged herself off of the path, and into the soft shredded wood that lined the side of the concrete path. The male ducks were intent though, and I had to stay next to the female and continually hiss and scatter loose dirt at the males to keep them at bay.

As I got a closer look at the female, I saw that she was in really horrible condition. I believe the males were going to continue until she was dead. Her back looked absolutely dreadful and so painful and inflamed, and the top of her head was much the same. I could see small bits of dried blood on her back, probably from where feathers had been savagely torn out.

She pretty quickly realized that I was not going to harm her, and that I was clearly keeping the males away, and she lamely inched her way closer to me. At this point, I knelt down and was talking softly to her, and she inched up even closer until her little head was under my leg. The poor girl was shivering uncontrollably, probably in part from the trauma, shock and fear, and in part from all of her exposed skin. The feathers that remained on her body were tattered and wet, and her wings, which at one point she sort of half spread open, looked incapable of lifting her in the air.

I immediately called the local humane society, but there was only one officer on duty, and she was currently on another call. So then I called another local place called Wild Care, which specializes in caring for sick and injured birds until the birds can be released back into the wild. Or, if they can't be released, they get to live at Wild Care. The woman at Wild Care said that the humane society would bring the duck there anyway, and that if I could bring the duck there myself, that would be best, as time could be of the essence. I explained that I was hesitant to handle the duck due to the extent of her injuries, and I didn't want to add more harm to the situation, but said I would try, and if nothing else, would sit and wait with the duck for the humane society officer to get there.

By this time, I was sitting flat on the ground with my legs stretched out in front of me. The duck was now quite sure that I only wanted to help her, and she had snuggled up firmly against my leg, leaning her head against me as well. I had started to put my jacket over her, but she didn't seem to want that. I suspect it might have been due to how painful her back was. So instead I had made a sort of barricade around her exposed side with it, so that she could no longer see the male ducks.

At this point, I didn't want to wait anymore - though I'd only been there for about 10-15 minutes. I pulled out a soft canvas bag and set it in front of her, with the opening facing her. Without hesitating, she limped inside it. She couldn't (or wouldn't) extend her legs when she walked, so it really almost looked like she was dragging herself. I carefully lifted the bag, allowing her to adjust as the position of the bag changed, and made my way to the car.

I called the officer and told her I was on the way to Wild Care, then called Wild Care to let them know as well.

The duck handled the car ride beautifully, and I spoke softly to her the whole time. As I was walking up to the door of Wild Care, she pulled herself out of the bag just enough to rest her head on my arm. My heart melted.

Once inside, the woman there set up a little box with a towel at the bottom for the duck to rest in, and explained what they would do in the next 48 hours to treat her. They had creams to help soothe and heal her exposed skin. She gave me a patient ID number, so I can call and check on her condition. I asked about visitation, but they don't allow that because they don't want the animals to get attached to people, which is actually really good (even though I so badly want to go see her!). But, she did say that they will call me when it's time to release her back into the wild so that I can come be a part of that. She said they never release at that lagoon because of how dangerous it can be there, especially for the female ducks - something I didn't know. But, something I will now be aware of and will look for anytime I'm there.

So, that's how I rescued a duck! It's not the first time I've found an injured bird and brought it there, but the first two were too far gone to survive. I'm really really hoping that this little lady makes it. She was just so sweet and so scared and so appreciative for the help I gave her.

I always help any animals in need whenever I come across them, and each experience is always rewarding in some way, but this one really was special to me due to the fact that she was so quick to trust me and snuggle up to me. I realize she didn't have much of a choice, but it really made my heart swell anyway.

Hopefully, she will forget about me in time, but I'll never forget her...

P.S. - I'll post updates on her condition as I get them. The woman did say it could be months of recovery before she can be released, if she can be released at all. But, I'll be calling them this week to check on her immediate condition. Fingers crossed!

UPDATE 6/18/09:
I just got off the phone with Wild Care. She didn't make it through the first night. My heart is breaking as I write this. I know I did the right thing (Wild Care is a great place with a wonderful reputation, and I'm not trained in caring for injured animals), but I wish now that I could have stayed with her 'till the end. I'll take some comfort in knowing that she felt safe with me - that she knew I cared about her and would protect her - and that while at Wild Care, she was at least safe and warm and having her pain managed. In her final hours, she knew tenderness and compassion. I'm glad that she didn't have to die on a concrete path with no one to help her. And at the very least, all of her pain ended that night. I'll try and focus on these positive things, but really, this just makes me so incredibly sad. I just want to cry now.

I'm so sorry, sweet girl. Our encounter was brief, but I'll never forget it, and you will always be in my heart...

I've decided to give her a name, posthumously: Daisy.

(note: the picture of the duck on this post is not of Daisy, but is a shot I took of another female mallard at the same lagoon, and it's what Daisy would have looked like before she was so savagely attacked. Sadly, it's not at all what she looked like by the time I found her.)


  1. You did the right thing by rescuing her...most would have walked on. *hugs*

  2. Oh, Chris, I just came upon your blog and this post. I have tears in my eyes for Daisy. thank you for opening your heart to a fellow creature in need. She knew your heart.