Our neighbors have a lovely pond. Kathy (Mrs. Neighbor) has an affinity, much like my own, for all things furry and feathery. Among her outdoor critters are a family of mallard ducks.
Ducks, as you might imagine with most wild animals, really have no idea what a yard or property line is. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to look out and see several ducks from Kathy and Bill’s house, waddling about or, (yikes), looking for an Arthur Treacher’s Goldfish Dinner from our pond. C’est la vie.
Last year, Mabel and Drake (one of a few nesting pairs) frequented our yard several times a day. Mabel became so comfortable that she moved in. Literally. She visited frequently enough that it became abundantly clear she was no longer a visitor. Mabel had laid of clutch of eggs in a ferned area surrounding our pond. Drake visited every day. They spent time together, but Mabel never strayed far from her nest. At the end of the evening, Drake would waddle off and Mabel would fly over the small pond and settle onto her hidden nest. Like clockwork, Drake returned the next morning for their swim in our pond and a nap in the sun nearby. It was heart-warming and romantic, in a wild animal kind of way.
I waited and waited. I felt like an expectant mother. I wanted to go and peek (but did not). I pestered my husband–“when will they hatch??” I researched mallard ducks to find out how long it took for their eggs to incubate. I could not see the nest, but I knew from their behavior it was there. I waited, impatiently, for the little ducklings to appear.
One day, very early in the morning, Mabel awakened me, squawking. I quickly learned that summer that squawking was typical for the female mallard. They are quite bossy and very vocal. But this particular morning, it was unrelenting and unusual, as Mabel never awoke quite this early. I peered out our bedroom window. It was a bit dark to see exactly what was going on, but Mabel went on with her raucous behavior. It began to rain.
As daylight approached, I could see Mabel in the yard, frantically pacing and squawking in front of the pond. Drake was nearby, looking helpless. I dared not go near, not wishing to disturb what nature had concluded, but my heart sank. I knew that something was terribly wrong.
Mabel continued on for most of the morning. Pacing. Squawking. Pacing. Squawking. I was sickened. She was inconsolable. Drake eventually wandered back to the neighbors. Finally, after about three hours and on a fittingly rainy day, Mabel took one last look at her nest and slowly waddled back toward home. I didn’t see her for the rest of the year, but I will never forget that morning, when Mabel lost what she had been so diligently guarding
I examined the area a few days later and, indeed, found her nest and the splintered clutch. I cleaned up some, but the nest still remains. I didn’t have the heart to remove what one mother so carefully fashioned to birth her babies.
A few weeks ago, I heard the ducks squawking for the first time this year, reminding us all they are here and preparing to have a go at the first clutches of the season. My husband, knowing my love for animals, reminds me of this often since we moved into the country: “Nature is neither kind, nor cruel, but merely indifferent.”
This year, for Mabel’s sake, I hope nature can be just a little bit kinder.