Mother Duck Leads Her Ducklings Through School Hallways
Published on May 10, 2016
These ducklings were born in an interior courtyard at Glover Elementary School, and the entire school lined the halls to help guide her and her ducklings to a nearby pond.
By Mary Schmich
May 12, 2016
A crazy woman was chasing the baby ducks along the boardwalk.
"Just hold on a minute," the woman muttered. "I'm not going to hurt you."
The ducklings scurried on, then veered into a recessed area off the boardwalk and straight into a fence.
Trapped, they stopped. They turned around, lined up and faced the mother duck with looks that said "What now?"
The woman shot.
Not a great photo, but good enough.
The ducklings scurried off, and I went home to post my small photographic victory on Facebook, aware of how eccentric I must have looked to anyone who was watching.
I'm not the only duckling stalker out there in this ardently blooming Chicago spring, however. I know this because in the past few days I've seen other visitors to Lincoln Park Zoo equally enthralled by duckling parades and equally determined to record the miraculous encounter.
"Careful," one woman warned her human children as they trailed the duck babies through the zoo and she pointed her iPhone. "Don't step on them."
One of the kids began to cry, as if the very thought of such cruelty was too much to bear.
There's something about a bunch of ducklings on parade, especially in the city, that could tenderize the toughest heart.
Maybe it's the contrast between their tiny, soft bodies and the hard, tall buildings. Maybe it's how organized and determined they seem as they march along, the kind of merry yet obedient band of siblings my father hoped in vain to breed. Maybe they make us think about the nature of family, of community, of cohesion.
Whatever exactly it is, a duckling parade is one of the few good reasons to use the otherwise dreadful word "cute."
"We're all evolutionarily charged to love it," said Mason Fidino, who's the bird expert at Lincoln Park Zoo, as he walked the boardwalk Thursday afternoon. After my duckling chase, I'd recruited him to supply some duck data.
"Even in the heart of Chicago," he said, "we're in this huge ecosystem. Mallards remind us of that."
Fidino, whose official title is ecological analyst, stipulated mallards because even though other kinds of ducks live at the zoo — including wood ducks and the blue-billed ruddy ducks — mallards are the most abundant. They're not part of the zoo's official collection, but they flock there to take advantage of the amenities.
Lots of food. No predators. Relatively clean water.
"We probably have the most well-protected ducks you'll ever see," Fidino said. "They're very pampered."
So the mallards are basically moochers?
"A better way to it put it," he said, "is that they're adaptable and smart."
At the zoo and all over the Chicago area, breeding season has come a little early this year, Fidino said, the consequence of a mild winter. Baby ducks are popping up at parks, golf courses, rivers, canals, almost anywhere there's water and sometimes where there's not.
"You see ducks nest everywhere," Fidino said. "We get calls: 'There's a duck nesting in my flower box.'"
Fidino calls ducks "an astounding species."
"When they're born," he said, "they know how to forage, how to swim."
A baby wood duck can drop straight out of a tree and head straight for a pond, no parental guidance needed.
Occasionally, a zoo official is notified of a duckling who has strayed from its group or gotten stuck alone on the wrong side of a fence, but for the most part the zoo's baby ducks live a safe life, despite the stalkers and gawkers.
Ducks aren't the only waterfowl propagating this time of year either. At the zoo and elsewhere, geese are also multiplying, and there are no doubt people who find a baby goose as adorable as a baby duck. The rest of us, however, look at a gosling and see the giant pooping machine it will grow into.
But even the geese help us feel part of the big systems and cycles of nature, and in any season those of us who live in a concrete world need to find ways to maintain that connection.
Go see some baby ducks while the season lasts. I promise they'll make you feel better.