By Scott Prater
When Andy Jensen first heard the news that ducks had been spotted at Schriever, he thought someone must be mistaken.
“We don’t have so much as a small pond on base right now, so it was hard to believe we would see any kind of waterfowl here,” he said.
A short walk to the west side of the base June 5 revealed the facts, however. When Jensen, 50th Civil Engineer Squadron environmental flight chief, and several other members of the environmental flight arrived at one of the many fences that surround Schriever, they found an adult mallard and six ducklings roaming around aimlessly.
Jensen estimated the ducklings had hatched only a day earlier. Since they obviously couldn’t fly, their mother was attempting to lead them to a water source the only way she knew how, by walking.
“Trapped behind a fence and miles from a water source, the ducklings had little chance of surviving,” Jensen said. “The mother must have arrived on base during early May when we still had water in the drainage ditch near the base’s west side. She must have built her nest, laid her eggs and waited for them to hatch. By the time they did, the water had dried up.”
Kim Young, a Missile Defense Agency employee, spotted the scene first. She arrived at work early in the morning and was heartbroken by what she witnessed. She called Margie Hobson, MDA environmental management representative, who then contacted the 50 CES environmental flight for help.
“Hearing that 90-degree heat was on the horizon and knowing we have many predators on base, the ducks’ future seemed grim,” Hobson said. “My first hope was that we would be able to round up the mother and her hatchlings and transfer them to a nearby body of water, like Prospect Lake, where other ducks and geese make their home.”
Once he surveyed the situation, Jensen contacted the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to get more information on the birds.
The scenario, presented an interesting decision for the environmental flight crew: choose not to interfere and allow nature to take its course or save the birds and risk disrupting a balanced ecosystem.
“I wrestled with the decision in part because we caught some grief for rescuing an owl that fell out of a nest on base a few weeks ago,” Jensen said. “The owl had a broken leg, so we know we did the right thing in that situation. As for the ducks, Donna Ralph, owner at EWRC, told me the ducklings most likely wouldn’t survive in these conditions, so we knew we had to act quickly if we were going to save them.”
Joining Jensen were Al Fernandez, Doug Chase, Pamela Rosinski, Diane Selleny and Capt. Rebecca Freeman. They each carried a net and approached the young duck family as a group.
“Our first tactic was to capture the mother, but as soon as we did that, the ducklings shot through the chain link to the other side,” Jensen said. “Once we released her, she reunited the group, but that left us back where we started.”
With the mother distressed and still trapped, Jensen and Chase decided to capture the ducklings. Unfortunately, they were unable to capture the mother a second time, thus leading to a bittersweet ending for the mallards.
“After we picked up the young birds, it was hard to watch as the mother flew back in and looked around for them,” Jensen said.
Once at the EWRC, the hatchlings health improved dramatically. With fresh water and the caring of adult mallards at the center, Ralph estimates all six hatchlings will survive. She plans to release the birds near Fountain Creek once they’re old enough to survive on their own, which should be sometime in September or October.
“Obviously, we feel for the mother, but it’s some consolation to think she’s probably already flown to a water source,” Jensen said. “And, she has actually has time to lay more eggs this season.”
For more information on what to do when encountering distressed wildlife in the area contact the 50 CES environmental flight at 567-3360.