May 04, 2019 09:57AM
● By Julie Ross
Make Way for Ducklings By Julie Ross
Anyone remember Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack? They’re the famous brood from Robert McClusky’s 1941 classic, Make Way for Ducklings.
To make sure his illustrations were the best they could be, McClusky bought a crate of ducklings, took them to his apartment in Greenwich Village, gave them a bath in his bathtub, and started drawing. The results have charmed generations. Make Way for Ducklingshas never gone out of print in all of its 78 years of publication, a testament not only to the author/illustrator but also to our love of living with and protecting wildlife.
May is National Duckling Month (yes, there is a month/day/week for pretty much everything now). The most common wild ducks in our area are mallards, which pair up in the fall and make their nests on the ground in the spring. Mallard ducklings typically hatch from mid-March through July, about 28 days after the eggs are laid. Only the female incubates the eggs and cares for the ducklings.
Got a backyard pool? This time of year, the Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital, where I volunteer, gets a lot of calls from homeowners about ducks and ducklings who are checking out their yards or have already taken up residence.
The most practical solution, of course, is to keep the ducks out in the first place. A pool cover is the best bet. Lacking that, animal pool toys moving around in the pool make an easy deterrent. Big inflatable swans (swans are natural enemies of ducks) are particularly effective. There are also floating “eyeballs” available online; large yellow balls with eye-like features mimic predators and make ducks think twice before landing in the pool. An automatic pool sweep can also work to keep ducks at bay, as do sprinklers.
If one day you are surprised by one or more ducklings swimming in your pool, keep in mind they are not likely to be able to get out. While they can walk just several hours after birth, they are not able to fly until about two months of age. But no need to panic – just put in something they can use as some sort of ramp – even a long piece of lumber set into the pool at an angle will do. It’s important the ducklings can get out of the water because as babies their feathers are not fully waterproof and hypothermia can set in. If you try to usher the family out of your yard, open a gate, move slowly, and don’t spook the mom. You want to keep everyone together and calm. Do not put out any food or water as that will encourage them to stay, and a backyard is not an appropriate habitat. You can reach the Lindsay Wildlife Hotline via Lindsay’s main number at (925) 935-1978 for more advice.
And if you happen to visit Boston, the city where Make Way for Ducklings is set, try to spend some time at the Boston Public Garden. Jack, Kack, Lack, and the gang have been memorialized in bronze -- all eight ducklings in a line following their mom toward the lagoon along an old brick walkway. (On a whimsical or disturbing note, depending on your point of view, locals delight in dressing the duck family in seasonal costumes and sports jerseys.)
Happy National Duckling Month to all, and thank you for keeping our local ducklings and other wildlife safe in our neighborhoods.
You can reach Julie at [email protected]