Young Wildlife RescuePosted Sunday, April 22, 2012, at 9:23 PM
In early May 1976, the family went camping to the upper end of Anderson Ranch Reservoir. We left right after work Friday and got there in time to claim one of our favorite un-developed camp areas. It had been quite cool for a while and Friday was the first day it had warmed nicely. Typically, the warm, unstable atmosphere led to a tremendous thunder storm just before sunset. The lightning and thunder gave way to steady, light rain and enough wind to raise huge waves on the water.
On Saturday morning, the sky had cleared, but a cold northwest wind was still blowing across the lake, again raising whitecaps. So, my father-in-law, the wife's uncle and I stoked up the campfire and poured another cup of coffee. A few minutes later, I noticed a small yellow dot cresting the top of a frothy wave, some 100 yards or so off shore. The small fuzzy ball was moving though, not just floating. It was on a straight course for the opposite side of the lake. The powerful waves were washing it backward, toward our camp, despite a valiant effort on its part. Suddenly, the little ball turned and started swimming with the waves, still a "full speed ahead." As it got closer, it became apparent that the ball was a duckling or gosling that had been separated from its family during the storm. Also as it got closer, the cheeps it was making got closer together and seemingly more urgent. When it reached the water's edge, the little fella made a couple of weak attempts to scale a driftwood log and finally made it. When it jumped off the log, it headed straight for the firepit. I jumped out of the chair and snagged it up in my hand.
Much to my surprise, the little guy settled right into my palm. It just stood there and when I put it under my down vest, it just relaxed and snuggled up against the flannel of my shirt. Warm and dry, the shirt was about to become a home.
Now the wife and my mother in law were adamant that we needed to take the little bird home with us. They scrounged a pasteboard box out of one of the campers, found some dead grass to put in it and the bird had a pen. A Tupperware dish filled with water and their plan was complete. And the little fella was happy with that.
I was not so keen on the idea, after all, the bird was a wild animal and needed to be with its own kind, not held captive as a pet. The ladies were in agreement that if we left the bird alone, it would become a meal for a cruising hawk or osprey. We opted to have brunch and talk about it later.
After breakfast, the lake had calmed down and it was time to go fishing AND turn the duckling loose. After some rather tense moments, I convinced the wife that we should take the bird across the lake and up toward the willows where it could find a family that might adopt it. If I couldn't find one, I'd figure something else out. (While my father-in-law and her uncle later told me they agreed with my plan, they were a little less than willing to enter the discussion now that THEIR wives had somehow discovered the transport box.)
I eventually won round one and we loaded the box and cargo and headed out toward the mouth of the river. It took a while, but I finally spotted a mother duck with a whole passel of little yellow balls of fuzz following her around. Now she wasn't real keen on my plan either as she scolded me loudly and sped the flotilla off toward the willows. I ran our little 12 foot boat up to the edge of the willows where I'd last seen the mother duck, grabbed the box off the middle seat and gently lowered the little ball of fuzz into the water. Then I hit the throttle on the motor and left it bobbing in the wake.
The little ball of fuzz started swimming as fast as it could toward the boat and the wife started telling me to stop and go back so we could save it. Well, I kept going and cut around a bunch of willows so the little guy couldn't see me.
I shut off the motor waited for a bit and heard the familiar deep, commanding quack of the hen mallard. I could also hear the cheep, cheep of the duckling. The mother duck repeated her call several times and then the cheep, cheep went silent.
Later that afternoon or early the next morning, we saw a mother duck with her flotilla of young ones swimming in single file behind her. One of the little fuzz balls was totally different than the rest and I was confident the little bird was okay. Several weeks later, we spotted a family of young ducks near the willows and there was a Canada goose right in the middle of the pack.
Was it the fuzz ball we'd saved? I don't know, but it makes for a good story. And it illustrates the need to get involved sometimes and be proactively conservative.
To this day, I am convinved that the little bird saw the movement in camp and after spending all or most of the night all by its lonesome in the dark, it really didn't care if the human that was holding it was also a hunter.
You see, I believe that we need to conserve resources when we can, but we can use them on occasion as well.
In any case, leaving a young animal in the wild is the only proper thing to do with wildlife.
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I was born September 17, 1949 in Caldwell, Idaho. Like Idaho's climate, I have a dry sense of humor. It may be a result of faulty genetics, but I come from sturdy stock. My great grandfather once served as a postmaster right on the line between Camas and Elmore Counties and is buried on what was once his land. According to research my only sibling has done, we generally agree that he started his westward trek in Indiana sometime after 1838 and died of pneumonia in 1911. If Google earth is correct, there are at least 2.5 million average steps between Ripley County, Indiana and his gravesite.
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