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Life Lessons from a Duck

Erin Schreyer  |  Mar 30, 2016

Go ahead and “quack up” about it. No, really, go ahead. It’s actually pretty funny. I can’t believe this is part of our life story right now, but it is. Even though we tried to stop it. We really did try. We saw the female duck weeks ago, and we tried shooing her away, fearing that she was looking for a nesting place. But alas, nature ran its course, despite our feeble human attempts to alter its plan. Now, we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of up to twelve – yes, a full dozen – baby ducks.

Isn’t it funny how life happens sometimes -how it opens our eyes and teaches us things in fresh new ways? God sure is creative, and as we check on the safety and incubation process of our new duck family in our new backyard nesting grounds, we are, indeed, engaging in valuable discussions and benefitting from fresh perspectives.

Sometimes help isn’t actually helpful.

In an odd way that some might call crazy, (It’s ok. I accept it, especially in this specific circumstance.) I found myself relating to this duck. We are both mothers, bringing our babies into this crazy world and doing our best to protect them. I literally felt pain for my little feathered friend on the day that she laid twelve eggs in her nest. We had been expecting eggs, but we were thinking it might be closer to six. Instead, she delivered twice the goods! Can you imagine how much work her body went through? I sure was thinking about it!!

She jumped into our pool and swam after her laborious day. I took the opportunity to check out the nest, count the eggs and also to provide a good healthy meal. I mean, seriously! She HAD to be starving at this point, right?!

My children and I Googled what would be good for her to eat. We didn’t just assume the stereotypical breadcrumbs, but we really had a heart to serve this duck well and nourish her body. We gathered together a nice bowl of organic greens, raw seeds and whole oats. That’s healthy, balanced nutrition right there!

I delivered a fresh bowl of this mix for three days in a row, and Mallory (that’s what we’ve named her) ate a good portion of it every time. Each day, I would crawl out onto our landscape ledge overlooking the pool where she has hidden the nest, and I would dump the bowl of nourishment on the ground, right next to it. Nothing like having dinner delivered to your doorstep, right?

Well….I quickly re-considered my “help,” when on the third night, she quacked frantically in the middle of the night for quite some time. My husband and I got out of bed with flashlights, went outside and tried to be sure that nothing was attacking the nest. We couldn’t find anything, but it was clear that Mallory was very upset, and she had left the nest to swim only in the middle of our pool. We believe we scared off “something” that had scared Mallory off her nest as well. We’re still not sure what kind of critter it was, but my husband noticed one clue right away.

“I can see the food you’ve left by the nest. I’ll bet it’s also attracting other hungry animals too.”

Immediately, I knew he was right. What I had meant to be helpful could also be attracting other animals that might only use that food as an appetizer; before devouring a nice, big duck egg breakfast. That was the last time we provided food for her. Coincidentally, it’s been the one and only time she has been frantic in the middle of the night. My “help” was very possibly putting Mallory and her babies in danger.

Things can appear unfair sometimes, but often there’s a bigger picture.

After the night of “duck terror,” we’ve been checking the nest and counting the eggs daily. Admittedly, I’ve been worried and it’s possible I’m even sleeping a bit lighter than normal. We think there are ten eggs now. We’re not quite sure, because we don’t want to touch the nest. We’re respecting their space, even though it’s in our landscaping!

When she first laid all of her eggs, we counted twelve. I can’t say with confidence that we still see twelve. We’ve for sure counted ten since that night, but Mallory has done a great camouflage work on her nest. Between the feathers she’s pulled from her own underside and the fallen leaves that she’s gathered from nearby trees, she has carefully covered her eggs. It’s hard to count the eggs, because we can’t always see them. We’re comforted watching her sit protectively on top, though, and we also know they’re extra warm with the extra layers of covering. She’s a smart mom.

Even so, we still think back to that one night. We’ve never confidently counted twelve eggs since then. Logic tells us that at least one, if not a few, were “taken.” It’s easy for us to grieve the loss for Mallory, who has been so careful and loving from the moment she began preparing her secret hiding space for them.

But…this is nature; the circle of life. While it might seem unfair for the duck, perhaps there’s a mother raccoon, snake, rodent or coyote that may also be caring for her new Spring family. It is the season for it! We’ve reminded our family that while it may seem unfair, God provided way more eggs for this duck than we could have imagined. Other animals need to eat and survive too. It’s all working as it should. Nature provides this necessary cycle for a reason. Even though it may seem “bad,” in reality, it’s healthy and necessary too.

Life is a beautiful, precious miracle. Each and every one.

Because of this supply and demand dynamic in nature, and because eggs often simply never hatch, we’ve set an expectation that we might expect to eventually see six ducklings swimming in our pool. We’ve told our kids, “fifty percent hatching…those seem like really good odds.”

My daughter sweetly challenged me as I was driving her to school the other morning, “Mommy, wouldn’t just one be a miracle?”

“You’re right. Yes. Each and every one is,” I replied. She didn’t need my affirmation, though. She was correcting me, because she already knew the truth.

I giggle when I think back to a few weeks ago when all of this started. We had never seen a Mallard swimming in a backyard pool before, nevermind our pool. My husband was quickly searching the Internet for ideas on how to “handle the situation” without killing the duck (I was at least grateful this didn’t turn into a backyard hunt!)

His research quickly informed us that we must first look for a nest with eggs. If our backyard search produced a nest, several websites explained that by both state and federal law, we cannot harm nesting ducks or ducklings, or move or destroy the nest or eggs.

Furthermore, we are to leash our pet, if we think our dog could be a danger to the duck or her nest. We need to inform our children and give them direction to protect the nest. (This has now turned into a hashtag for us, as we keep our neighbors informed of the duck incubation process!) We also need to keep our pool water level lower, so after the ducklings are hatched, they won’t get pulled into the leaf drains. And…(this one is my favorite)…because baby ducks aren’t born with the oils on their feathers, they can more easily become water-logged and drown if they can’t easily step out of the pool onto dry land. If we see this is the case, we need to build a ramp for them to escape the water and rest on a safe, dry surface. (You should have seen my husband’s eyes at this point! LOL!)

Mind you, this is a common Mallard duck. The same kind you see on just about every pond or farm. They are the same kind that you would call to memory when you think of a duck. The same kind toy-makers make into plush animals and decoy-makers carve into floating, wooden distractions. These are common ducks. They are not endangered. We are not trying to rebuild a diminishing population (even though, in our yard, we sort of are!)

And yet…each one, by law, is to be protected. Their lives, according to state and federal lawmakers are valuable. From the time an egg is hatched, it is protected. Recognized as life. Legally acknowledged and cared for at the state and national level.

We couldn’t agree more. Life is precious. All life. No matter what life stage.

So, we’ll continue to watch over Mallory and her nest. We’ll love and protect her and her babies as much as we can, even though we DO hope they find a nearby lake at some point!! (We’ve been assured this will happen. Nature will continue to take its course.)

Today, we’re about half-way through the incubation process. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for “newborn” photos and announcements. Until then, we’ll keep watching, learning and appreciating these beautiful life lessons from nature and from the Creator himself. We feel honored to have had our back yard chosen as a safe haven, and we take seriously the gift that life is. We’ll protect it as much as we can!

Likewise, we appreciate the value of human life – at any and all stages of development. I recently heard a talk from the Founder of an organization called Stand for Life. Instead of condemning or judging anyone for choosing to terminate a pregnancy, this organization focuses on celebrating the stories of all the families who have chosen life, often through very complex and difficult circumstances. The narratives are each unique, beautiful, heart-warming love stories of families who chose life for their babies, some for only a few life-changing moments. These videos and blog posts offer hope, even in the midst of tragedy and great difficulty. They demonstrate that life brings life, regardless. Such a beautiful message to share.  Like them on Facebook too, would you?

Have you ever learned a lesson from the life that’s happening all around you? Is there something you could notice today?

About Erin Schreyer

I’m passionate about positive life change, impacting others, and Jesus Christ, who makes all things possible. Professionally, I’m a coach, speaker, and writer. Personally, I’m a wife, mom, friend, loud laugher, and lover of tennis, hiking, cupcakes, a good book, and a great glass of red wine.  »  Learn More

What People Are Saying

I can’t wait to see the birth announcements! I loved reading this today….so sweet and so many precious life lessons.

How could baby ducklings be anything but adorable?! I can’t wait to take pics of them and share them with everyone!!

Love how you make me think! Everytime I saw a duck today, I paused and reflected!

So fun, Lisa!!! Glad you noticed them and pondered.

That was so beautiful to read! Looking forward to see Mallory’s babies :)

Thanks, Ruma. We think it will be about another week. We’re excited!

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