Once upon a time, just a few weeks ago, a mamma mallard duck decided to find a safe and sheltering place to make her nest. It was time for her to lay some eggs. Her partner, papa mallard, kept close watch on where she went, so he could meet up with her from time to time. Even though they usually make their nests near the river where they live, this time she wanted something a little swankier and maybe a bit safer from predators.
Mama duck may have heard how nice the penthouse patio of Connie Tipton was and decided to check it out. A well-known hostess on Capitol Hill, and the previous owner of the East Capitol Street deer house, Connie had moved to a condo building at the corner of 11th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. SE a few years ago. Happy to be living on one floor, Connie enjoys her outdoor living space with a great view of the Capitol in one direction and the river in another. She has a long grassy yard that meets a tall flower planter that begins the developed patio space. A second tall flower planter on the other side of the patio door makes you forget you are really five floors up from the street.
The flower planters feature a variety of flowers, and many began blooming in April given the early spring this year. As it turns out, the plentiful plantings are just what a mamma duck was looking for. She came in for a landing, and suddenly Connie was hosting a most unusual guest. Connie says she heard some noise coming from the planter one morning and there the mallard mom was. In just a few days, she was proudly sitting on ten duck eggs, and hiding herself in the potted plants.
“I would never have dreamed that my patio would be so attractive to ducks,” says Connie, “but I was very excited to be part of her adventure.” Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch. The mother will sit on the nest with the eggs almost all the time but does leave the nest to search for food. Usually, a duck will lay between three and twelve eggs.
Connie said that if the duck got a little scared, it would fly up out of the planter and seek some space on the grassy part of the roof.
“I had two different events and parties on my patio during this time, and she would quietly sit in her nest protecting her eggs,” Connie said. Mallards often like to find planters that have low plants or shrubs, and like when people are around, because they scare off predators. Predators for this mama duck could be crows or hawks and raptors that are often seen in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Duck Watch to the Rescue
As Connie waited for the big day to happen, she began researching local wildlife groups that might help her monitor the nest and help the mama duck and her babies back to the river. As it turns out, a non-profit organization, City Wildlife, has organized a program named, Duck Watch, that “educates residents and building managers as to how they can help Maillard families and as soon as the ducklings hatch, bring the mom and ducks to water.”
April Linton is the City Wildlife Duck Watch Coordinator for City Wildlife and has been volunteering to help ducks for many years, as have many of the other trained volunteers in the program. “I started by seeing a duck nesting outside where I worked near Union Station. Well-meaning but not too helpful people would leave cupcakes, take-out food for the duck, and I knew that wasn’t good, so I started removing the offerings, and in the process met the City Wildlife staff,” says April.
She met with Connie and helped put up some barriers as the hatching day came nearer. The plan was to cover any openings that the ducks might fall into and limit the area that the mamma duck and little ones could explore. “Connie’s patio was a perfect spot for the mallard, and her patio furniture provided places the ducks could get under and out of the eye of predators,” April noted.
In 2022, City Wildlife Duck Watch had 93 waterfowl nests that they monitored—91 Mallard ducks and two Canadian Geese. In coordination with D.C. Animal Care and Control, Duck Watch volunteers carried out 28 escorts to water and 44 rescues that required the volunteers to capture ducks trapped in courtyards or on roofs and balconies. All in all, Duck Watch helped 551 urban ducklings and goslings get to water with their parents.
Ten Ducklings are Hatched
Right on schedule, on the 28th day, the ducklings started hatching. About half the eggs had hatched when April stopped by to consult with Connie and make plans for the next day escort of ducks to the Anacostia River. April said that by the next morning all the eggs would be hatched and then the mamma and the ducklings would fly down or drop down to the patio and begin to test out their legs and begin to look for water. It is then that the Duck Watch volunteers come to provide an escort to the river.
Sure enough by noon, the 11 ducks were exploring the patio, and enjoying splashing around in some small water containers. Connie had left the operation in Duck Watch’s capable hands, as she had a plane to catch to be out of town for the weekend. Two volunteers with a butterfly type net scooped up the 10 ducklings and had them placed in a crate, like what cats are transported in. The real trick, noted April, is capturing the mom.
The plan was to lure her into the apartment where she saw the crate with her ducks.
But if she spooked, and they often do, she would start flapping her wings and flying. Everyone held their breath as the volunteer snatched the mom up as she entered the door. The lovely glassware in Connie’s apartment was saved.
The volunteers left with their new charges, along with another duck mom and four ducklings they had rescued at Gallaudet hours earlier in the day. Off to the Anacostia River to be freed, and hopefully reunited with the father ducks.
Washington DC is ranked third in largest cities for wildlife by the National Wildlife Federation. A third of the city area is parkland, and the special efforts to protect and preserve our land and rivers has helped restore the endangered bald eagles and is bringing back osprey to the Anacostia River. It is from the efforts of people like Connie and April of Duck Watch that DC wildlife can thrive.
To learn more, go to https://citywildlife.org/programs/duckwatch/
Rindy O’Brien was honored to be present for the duckling’s day. To contact her, email@example.com