The progress of this little story has been a few months in the making and I wanted to observe its progress prior to writing a bit about it. Raleigh, actually “Rally” but (not knowing the whether Raleigh was a hen or drake) I decided Raleigh seemed a good name.
Raleigh was one of a brood of at least three to four Mallard ducklings that hatched somewhere near our pond in April. I am not totally sure of the number as there were two other hens with ducklings and sightings get mixed sometimes. I am sure though that after a very few days the brood Raleigh came from was down to two ducklings and one was a darker mallard color and the other was what we here call a “blonde duck”- same markings just paler.
I began to notice the Mallard Momma became agitated frequently and that it usually had to do with a drake. One of my neighbors had noticed this behavior too and was concerned as it looked like the drake was continually coming between the Momma Mallard and her ducklings, separating her from them.
Soon it became common to hear the tiny “peep, peep peeps” constantly as Momma began to separate herself from her brood of two. I would find she and her drake hiding in my own or my neighbor’s front yard in the shrubs; hanging out away from the other more aggressive drakes and mallard broods on the pond. By the time the two ducklings were about 3 weeks old they were basically abandoned. The “blonde duckling” became the leader and helped its less robust sibling maneuver the rocky shoreline and the tall grasses. I watched as the second duckling struggled to keep up and the Blonde duckling would wait and help guide it. They peeped for Momma and then after a week or so peeped only to locate each other if they were separated.
They were chased off by the other brood Mommas, as ducks established family units are quite clannish for survival. By this time the ducklings knew that our yard was a food source and somewhat a sanctuary from the perils of the pond… except for the Redtail Hawk, the big rat snake and weirdly this year a Great Blue Heron who continually stalked all the ducklings. The two ducklings huddled together against the April rain and coolness and then one very stormy day the smaller duckling disappeared. I was stunned and deeply saddened.
That’s when I named Raleigh. Raleigh was always easy to spot due to the blonde-ness of its feathers. I watched daily to check up on this small duckling waddling through the yard, swimming close to shore, being spurned by other mallards and finding the only warmth in the cold spring air to be snuggling-pressed against a large sunlit rock at the water’s edge.
I made sure that I would call “Raleigh” whenever I put out duck food and it would always come and eat or wait back until the other ducks had left to eat. Sometimes the geese would come to finish remnants of the duck’s food and Raleigh seemed comfortable around them and they did not mind the little duck’s presence.
I worried about Raleigh and tried to reason the “circle of life-course of nature” but I so wanted Raleigh to grow up. Then the ducklings from an earlier brood began to march up onto our dock, flap their wings and take flight into the water. They also would run in the yard flapping their wings becoming airborne for a few moments. Raleigh began to go through the same motions about a week later and you can imagine my joy when I saw this little blonde duck take flight.
The young juvenile ducks have begun to separate from their broods and form a new flock with other juvenile ducks. Raleigh is among them most of the time but occasionally I will still see Raleigh away from the others hanging out on a favorite tree stump- content on its own. And now all of the Mallards come to eat together- the juveniles, the mature molting drakes and hens. Raleigh is always in the mix!
I will continue to watch for my Blonde Duck! Raleigh is a survivor but more than that Raleigh has shown great resilience and perseverance; Raleigh has just kept being who Raleigh is. That has been a very powerful lesson in nature for me this spring. Pondering life here at Green Heron Pond.