By Sue Botos
Staff members at The Welsh Home knew this was going to be an unusual year for the annual duck parade when a mother mallard and her brood made a late-season appearance in the home’s courtyard. But little did the employees know they would become temporary “moms” to the 10 ducklings, herding them through a hallway to the outdoors after the mom took off.
For more than 10 years, by staffers’ estimates, a female mallard has nested in The Welsh Home’s glass-enclosed courtyard, usually in May. When she is ready, the mother will peck at the doors leading from the courtyard into the home, and then escort her family through the hallway, out the door and through the gardens to the pond in front of the home. There, traditionally, they join other ducks, geese and snapping turtles in the natural body of water.
While this year’s brood eventually made the journey, there were a few anxious moments.
“Sometimes they loiter here, but when she senses freedom, off she goes,” noted maintenance man John Bayus as a small group of employees and onlookers waited for the family to waddle through the open hallway door.
But this group seemed none too anxious to leave its secure home, enjoying the corn spread on the ground. Another door was opened and staff tried to encourage the brood through. Eventually, the fuzzy yellow and brown ducklings entered the hall, but Mom, either spooked or taking advantage of her “babysitters,” flew the coop.
Staff, including Bayus, herded the babies through the hall where they skittered behind furniture and into corners, finally emerging into the garden, where they hunkered down under some rose bushes until the mother returned and led them to the water.
Welch Home employees usually notice both the male and female duck flying above the courtyard, scoping out a potential nesting spot, but this year, the birds took everyone by surprise.
“Usually she comes in May, but we’ve had a lot of construction lately, so maybe that had something to do with it,” said The Welsh Home’s Chris Parent, who has witnessed the parade for 10 years. She said that staff first noticed the duck family on July 9, and the mother started pecking at the glass courtyard door a few days later, so the release date was set for July 12.
According to naturalist Tim Jasinski of the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, it’s not unusual for mallards to nest close to humans. He said recently that a duck nested near a busy doorway outside of an Applebee’s restaurant in Parma. “Hardly anyone noticed her, she blended in so well,” he said.
Mallards usually lay about a dozen eggs in a nest built on the ground. The incubation period lasts just short of a month, and once incubation is under way, the male takes off to join an all-male flock.
While The Welsh Home staff is not certain that the same duck comes back to the courtyard each year, Jasinski said it’s quite possible. “It’s not common, but it’s very likely. Geese could return to the same spot each year for sure,” he added. The average life span for a mallard is 10 years, according to Jasinski, although they can live into their midteens or 20s.
Mallard nests are used for incubation purposes only, and once hatched, ducklings do not return. According to a West Life story from 2010, Dave Wolf, then director of wildlife for the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, said the babies wouldn’t imprint on the nest, but could remember the pond and come back to nest near it.
Jasinski said that there could be a number of reasons for the late-season hatchlings. “Generally, in this area, they have one brood a year unless the first nest was preyed upon, or the eggs were infertile. This could also be a young female with her first brood,” he noted. “But this pretty late in the season for babies,” he said.
As for the return of the mother duck, Jasinski said there were no worries there, despite some of the ducklings being touched by people. “Most birds don’t have a sense of smell. It goes against their instincts not to take the babies back,” he said.