Sunday, June 17, 2012

Notes From The Critter Lady

Hi Folks! Thanks for stopping by!

I had intended to write one story like I always do, but there has been quite a bit of activity happening lately, so I thought I'd touch upon some of the events I've dealt with recently.

As you know, I look after a gang of abandoned flightless ducks at McKinnon's Pond here in Whoville. At last count, there were twelve ducks all living quietly on the pond. Most have mates, particularly at this time of year, which is mating season. They've all staked out a small bit of territory around the pond, and they all tend to respect each other's areas. If someone crosses a territorial line, he/she is quickly sent back across the DMZ!

If you've read my book, Crazy Critter Lady (available at, you'll know that there are actually two ponds within close proximity to each other: McKinnon's Pond, and the one I refer to as the "small pond well-suited to ice skating in winter, and quiet reflection in summer." It was at this small, nameless pond that someone recently abandoned six fully grown Pekin ducks.

I'm told that someone witnessed a child leaving the ducks, but six full-grown Pekins is more than one youngster could handle; there's no doubt in my mind that at least one adult was also involved. Regardless, when Animal Control Officer Dave called and told me about them, all I could do was shake my head in disgust. When I went to check them out for myself, I thought tiredly that I didn't have the energy to worry about six more ducks, and I wondered what could be done about them. I left them some cracked corn, but the poor creatures were so terrified that they never ate it. I noticed on subsequent visits that they didn't touch the corn left by my volunteer, either.

It was Officer Dave who proposed rescuing the ducks, and he wanted to do it quickly: he was due to go on vacation, and didn't want to have to worry about them while he was gone. After I consulted a couple of duck rescue sanctuaries on Facebook, Dave and I hatched a plan we were confident would succeed: Dave borrowed some temporary orange fencing of the kind that you see around construction zones. We agreed on the best place to set up the fencing, then Dave went off to round up some teenagers who were spending the summer working for the City of Whoville. When he returned, we discussed strategy with the kids, and put everyone in position.

Dave had assigned me the task of herding the ducks. We were fortunate in that all six continued to huddle together under a tree, rather than separate out in the water. I advanced on them with measured, deliberate steps, walking ever so carefully. I didn't want them splitting up and running in different directions. Slowly, the huddled mass was herded toward the staging area. Dave and the kids flanked us on the right, effectively cutting off any chance of the ducks veering in that direction. Thankfully, it didn't occur to the ducks to run into the water, so I continued to press gently onward until they walked into the staging area. Dave quickly closed them in, and then he and I proceeded to grab the ducks one by one and put them into the cage he had brought along for that purpose. After we all posed for pictures, Dave drove the ducks to their new home, thanks to a name supplied by the local Humane Society. Everyone walked away immensely satisfied by the happy ending.

Make no mistake: we got lucky. We got very lucky! The Gods were definitely smiling on us that day, because when ducks feel threatened on land, they almost always head straight for the water. Had they done so during our rescue attempt, we would have had to come back another day - with a boat, no less! - and try again, and no one wanted to do that. Dave and I knew exactly how lucky we'd been, and ended up so pleased with ourselves that we shared not one, but two congratulatory fist bumps! We parted company hoping we wouldn't be called upon to do any more rescues like that one any time soon.

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Not long after that rescue, one of my abandoned gang was killed by a predator. I had developed a pleasant routine with Mama Duck - pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable - while she was nesting this spring. Mama was a sneaky girl whose nests were always difficult to find. Those nests had eluded my best search efforts more than once: indeed, Little Nipper - whose leg injury required me to rehab him my bathroom a couple of years ago - was one of her offspring.

While I was out looking for her nest this past spring, I happened upon a fellow outside one of the apartment buildings that fronts McKinnon's Pond. Offhandedly, I asked whether he knew of any duck nests in the area, and he immediately pointed me toward a large evergreen shrub, behind which was Mama's nest. Boy, did I get lucky, there: I would never have found it on my own! Since Mama was a very dedicated nest-sitter, and since I knew better than to leave food lying around near her nest (it attracts predators), I got into the habit of picking her up off the nest and moving her a short distance away, where I would dump out a portion of cracked corn for her.

It must be said that Mama never enjoyed - let alone appreciated - this routine. Every time I reached down behind the shrub, she would swivel her head around and nip me repeatedly. Like Pretty Boy before her, though, I think she pulled her punches because those bites never hurt. I would grasp Mama around her torso, leaving her wings free. I was always surprised that she didn't flap those wings in an attempt to get away. Rather, she would extend them to their full width, as though she were gliding on an updraft. Those may well have been the only times in her life that she experienced the sensation of flight. When I set her on the ground, she always made a mad dash for the food. I would walk away content with the knowledge that she was getting a decent meal.

It was the fellow that first showed me Mama's nest who contacted me through youtube (where I've posted a number of videos featuring the McKinnon's Pond ducks), and told me the bad news that Mama had been killed. It's a hazard of doing business, of course - there's never a guarantee that those abandoned ducks will live long, healthy lives in the wild. More often than not, they don't. But knowing that never makes it any easier to lose one.

Later the same day that I got the young man's message, I went to see for myself. The body was gone, but there were several piles of duck down that told the story. I picked up one of the feathers to remember her by, and said a prayer to the Gods, asking that they take Mama right up to heaven where she belongs. I sure will miss our routine!

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Meanwhile, there was a shrub of considerable size growing next to the shed in my back yard. One big branch jutted out in such a way that it looked like two very big shrubs were growing right next to each other. It looked messy, and that bothered the aesthete in me: I like things to look neat, balanced, and orderly, and this did not. I asked Fiance John to come over and remove the big jutting branch for me, and since he's one of those Tim the Toolman types who likes man-toys, he happily brought his chainsaw over and did as I requested.

It never occurred to me, until we started removing the chopped-up branch, that a bird might be nesting in it. It didn't occur to me, that is, until a robin jumped out of the fallen foliage and flew off, chirping angrily. The next thing you know, John discovered the nest, and I discovered the broken robin's egg on the ground. The robin herself chastised us at length from a nearby tree.

I felt awful! I'm the Critter Lady, for heaven's sake! This is exactly the sort of thing that's supposed to occur to me! I picked out a decent nest site in the remaining shrub, and replaced the nest, but there's no indication that the robin is using it. I don't blame her for being angry with me. I'm angry with myself. Next time, of course, I'll know better; it's learning the hard way - at someone's expense - that causes me anguish.

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So that's what's been happening in my neck of the woods. It's definitely been a mixed bag of happy success at righting a cruel wrong, and sadness at the loss of one of my duck friends, and at displacing an innocent bystander who had no idea that her home would be felled along with an ugly bit of shrubbery. I try not to dwell on the sorrow, but it's there nonetheless. Hopefully, I will have a more uplifting story to tell you next time around. In the meantime, have a great summer and please be kind to all the critters!