I happened to be at the desk on my volunteer shift and, at the advice of staff, I grabbed a couple of long-handled nets, tucked a soft towel into a cardboard animal carrier and quickly followed the boy and girl into the park. They led me to a heavy, round metal grate in the lawn close to the Larkey Park Swim Center. We heard peeping noises, got down on our knees and, sure enough, we could see several tiny ducklings swimming in the drain water about ten feet down.
The mother mallard was flying back and forth over where her babies were calling. It was painful to see how anxious she appeared, but there was no way we could get that grate off. I consulted Susan Heckly, director of wildlife rehabilitation at the museum, who called the City of Walnut Creek to send some assistance.
I asked the kids, their moms, friends and a small crowd of interested onlookers to please stand back from the drain so as not to further upset the mother duck, while I walked out to the street to wait for help to arrive.
When I got to the curb, I looked down the road and saw a fellow volunteer, Carol K. Carol had already gathered three ducklings off the street and put them into a carrier to keep them out of harm’s way while she tried to locate their mother.
As Carol began walking with me so I could show her where the other ducklings were trapped, we heard more peeping coming from yet another storm drain! As we waited by this drain, Carol flagged down a passing truck carrying two independent landscape workmen. They stopped and tried to pull the grate off, but it was way too heavy. They parked their truck and sat in the park to have lunch.
At this point we had lost sight of the mother duck, so Carol decided to take the three babies she had up to the wildlife hospital so they could be kept warm on a heating pad. I continued to wait for help. Carol sent another volunteer, Kathy G., down to relieve me. As I explained the situation to Kathy, the two landscape guys came back with some wicked-looking gardening tools.
With a dramatic “uno, dos, tres,” and a huge effort, the two were able to pry up the grate and set it aside. We could see four ducklings swimming back and forth, but they were so far down that even the big net I had brought wouldn’t reach them. One of the men actually lowered himself several feet down into the pipe and managed to safely net each of the downy little babies! As he handed them up, I put them one at a time into the cardboard carrier.
Just as we put the last duckling in, the mother duck swooped down and landed in the grass nearby! She had obviously been hiding and watching us the whole time. I slowly walked close to her, opened the box and set it on its side. It only took a few seconds for the ducklings to emerge and head over to their mother before they all waddled away together. Kathy and I, as well as the two burly rescuers, were grinning like crazy.
But wait! There were still ducklings under the other grate downstream. Our two heroes were up for the task. As they began to pry at the second heavy drain cover, a City of Walnut Creek employee drove up. He went into a nearby storage unit, came back with a big crowbar kind of thing and the three of them went to work. As soon as the cover came off, one of the men did a repeat performance, rescuing four more baby ducks. While Kathy stayed on the scene, I ran up to the wildlife hospital and collected the box containing the three babies Carol had rescued. By now, eight ducklings had been reunited with their mother and were walking back and forth outside the fence surrounding the swimming pool. They were moving pretty briskly, so I hand-carried each of the three remaining ducklings close to the group to make it easier for them to join their family. You can bet mother duck did not like me handling her youngsters -- she made a quick attack (which I dodged) as I handed the last baby over to her.
So, all eleven ducklings were back with their mom! Mother mallard led them through a small opening in the fence, and they all jumped onto the swimming pool cover to rest up after their very stressful morning. (Dad mallard was hanging out in the kiddie pool the whole time.)
The Walnut Creek city employee drove off, but said he would check back to make sure the duck family was safe. Whew. Our two landscaping heroes left as well – before we could get their names! The kids who originally ran to report the ducklings, their friends and moms stayed through the whole event. It was so wonderful to see a bunch of concerned strangers coming together to help this duck family get reunited.
Let’s hope these little quackers made their way safely down the street to the canal -- the Larkey pool is not an appropriate habitat! Happy spring, everyone.
You can reach Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org