By Deanna Barth
Earlier this week, I was contacted by a homeowner who had discovered a mallard duck and five little ducklings in her pool, which is not an uncommon occurrence, this time of year.
Mallard hens seek out safe places to nest, and this particular backyard provided, not only a water source, but shelter from predators and mallard drakes.
Unfortunately, a situation like this - a swimming pool and enclosed backyard, was not a suitable place for the wild duck family to stay. Keeping them there and feeding them was not an option. They might become habituated to people.
For the well-being of the ducks, they needed to be returned to their natural habitat.
Typically, we would open the gate to allow the hen and ducklings to leave on their own, or gently herd them a certain direction.
Instinctively, the hen wants to lead her babies to the closest body of water - one that she has spied from her flights. The closest body of water, however, was across a busy highway. This would not only be dangerous for the ducks, but also to drivers, as the ducks could potentially cause a traffic collision.
Most wild birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and wildlife in our state is protected by California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This duck family could not be captured and moved to a safer location without prior authorization.
WES has a permit that allows us to move migratory birds that are either in imminent danger or may pose a threat to human safety. We also called our local game warden for his opinion.
It was decided - we would capture the duck family and escort them across the highway to the closest pond. For anyone who has worked with mallards, you know it's not easy to capture a flighted adult. This was definitely a two-person job.
This morning, WES' founder, Rebecca Dmytryk, met me at the residence to assist in capturing the duck family.
After observing their behavior, we made a plan to contain the ducklings first, then capture the hen by luring her with the ducklings.
We used long-handled dip nets to gently scoop the ducklings from the pool, then we set them next to a drop trap.
A drop trap, described in Rebecca's book Wildlife Search and Rescue: A Guide to First Responders, is the simplest and safest way to catch an adult mallard. Check out the video below to see how it works.
Once we had the mother contained in a separate carrier for safety, we drove to the pond.
It's important for the babies to be let go first, in an open area where the mother can see and hear them.
All went as planned. A happy reunion!