Breaking news: Baby ducks exit shells

Over at Arbor Acres, the retirement community where my mother lives, there’s a population explosion looming.

Our duck friends, whose importation we told you about last summer, have produced a second generation, and several mama ducks are now poised atop their eggs.

On top of that, a mallard — either a long-time resident or a passerby who opted to lay her eggs there — has produced eight offspring, seen above in a photo I took Sunday.

Arbor Acres has always had ducks and geese — sometimes too many, sometimes not enough. They stay along a pond and an azalea-lined canal that feeds the pond. The geese come and go, but most of the ducks seem to like it enough to make it home.

The ducks serve as conversation pieces, and much more. They give residents something to watch that’s far more interesting than television, let them stay in touch with nature, and take part in the excitement of a new cycle of life starting up. When the baby ducks start showing up at Arbor Acres, all other news takes a back seat.

(I am of the opinion that every center for the elderly, a group I am in hopes of joining one day, should get massive and regular doses of two things — young people and animals, and that bringing them together greatly benefits all three. )

Late spring to early summer, the eggs usually start appearing at Arbor Acres, and, if all goes well, baby ducks are soon spotted, generally hovering around their mother.

Last year, when the numbers dwindled and most of the newborns were being gobbled up by predators — a turtle who lives in the pond is the top suspect — one resident took steps to re-establish a flock.

He bought 16 of various breeds, cared for them at home and released them when they were old enough to get by on their own. The new ducks were all named after residents — one of them after my mother, Jo Woestendiek, whose room overlooks the canal.

For a week now, Jo Woestendiek, the duck, has been laying atop her eggs in a nest she made with pine needles — just outside the window of  Jo Woestendiek, the human, who leans over her couch and cranes her neck in hopes of getting a glimpse of them.

The births are always followed by a period of concern for the residents — walking on eggshells would be one way to put it — as they wait to see how many of the eggs, then ducklings, are going to survive the turtle, coyote, fox and heron that see them as breakfast.

One summer a few years ago, my mother — apparently not the first to do so — took a group of newborns in, secretly keeping them in a cardboard box in her room. (Ace, during a visit, was fascinated by them, slowly approaching and giving each a delicate sniff.)

This year, a good batch of eggs has shown up around campus and, depending on how many escape the predators, the duck population could triple, with a strong contingent of what my mother has already taken to calling — even before they hatch — the Woestenducks.

There aren’t too many things in the world cuter than baby ducks, and how they steadfastly follow their mother, on land and water, no matter how much she zigs and zags.

As I watched them Sunday, mother duck swam across the canal, her babies following closely. When the mother duck climbed up a series of rocks and into the pine needles under a bush, the baby ducks struggled, falling over each other, off the rocks, then fighting to get up again, almost reaching the top only to tumble back down.

I wanted to lend a hand, especially to the last one trying to make it up — clearly the klutz of the bunch. He’d slap a webbed foot on a wet rock, only to have it slide off as he somersaulted back into the water.

I kept thinking his mother should get up and help him.

Then I realized, by not going to his aid, she was.

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