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A helping hand for our feathered and feral friends

Out of My Head

Posted: July 15, 2008 1:06 a.m.
Updated: September 15, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
There's been considerable squawking lately over the wild ducks and geese inhabiting a certain area of Valencia.

Creating traffic issues as they randomly cross a thoroughfare - many with their little peeps in tow - these creatures have made for a nest of news stories, along with abrupt car swerves.

Some residents appreciate their presence and want the public to become more protective of its feathered friends.

One woman has even suggested putting up a "duck crossing" sign to slow motorists.

Then there are also those who believe such traffic changes are for the birds. Some reason: Why should a bunch of ducks and Canada geese affect a city slicker's right to plow through Santa Clarita Valley neighborhoods at 50-plus mph?

As it is now, some folks don't even slow down for human pedestrians. So it's unlikely they're going to do it for a bunch of quackers.

Given that our busy streets do pose danger to these ducks and geese (and have led to the early demise of several winged mamas), many SCV residents are wondering what to do when they encounter an orphaned baby duck or goose. If you leave them alone, they'll surely perish.

Even under the best of circumstances, most don't make it to adulthood. And it's not like their fathers are going to raise them: Once they're done fertilizing eggs, they're gone.

In recent weeks I've become familiar with this situation: a baby mallard came into my life - and home.

That unforgettable one-week experience, as well as the helpful information I gleaned from it, is worth sharing.

Butterfly McQueen's unforgettable line in "Gone With the Wind" - "I don't know nuthin' ‘bout birthin' babies" - came to mind soon after I spotted the tiny duckling.

I was clueless about caring for mallards, and this diminutive orphan was alone and totally defenseless. Hatched only hours before in my back yard, it frantically called out to its missing mama in a heartbreaking wail.

Unless I intervened, I knew the fuzzy-coated waif would perish from the heat, drown in my pool, or, most likely, become a predator's snack.

And so began my relationship with Duckie.

The desire to help this itsy-bitsy mallard, along with some speedy duckling rescue Internet research, gave Duckie his/her first needed break at survival. (I say "his/her" because ducks' gender is not apparent that young.)

For this veteran nurse and empty-nester, a baby duck became a welcome challenge.

What to do?

I kept Duckie in a large, see-through plastic storage container with plenty of air holes punched in the top; soft, warm bedding with pee pads on the bottom; and frequently small bowls of watery duck mash and greens. (Worms are also a nice nosh.)

Occasionally I placed Duckie in a lukewarm tub for a quick three-minute dip. (Because ducklings that young have no real feathers or body fat yet, their body temperature can plummet quickly so you have to keep the water, room, and them warm.)

That brief splash time was wonderful, though; Duckie enjoyed the dip and did what comes naturally to ducks; he/she swam!

Within Duckie's "crib" I also placed a knitted bootie, part of a pair my dear deceased grandma had made for me years ago.

Its softness was no substitute for a Mama, but it helped.

Duckie frequently slept on, or perched itself atop, that little bootie. (Several times each day I replaced one washed bootie for the other, as ducklings poop a LOT.)

I loved having Duckie with me and knew we were getting attached to one another. But I also realized our developing mother-child relationship was not permanent.

Duckie needed to be with its own kind.

Every day I made phone calls and left many messages. I wanted to find a duck rehab/sanctuary where other young ducks grew up together in a safe, well-cared-for environment.

Those calls went out to the Placerita Nature Center, Audubon Society, Wildlife Waystation, Gentle Barn and more. None could take Duckie, but several offered referrals.

Ultimately I had two solid options: Drive Duckie to the International Bird Rescue Research Center (www.ibrrc.org) in San Pedro, a huge facility that cares for sick or oil-spill-affected aquatic birds. Or, as I chose, get Duckie to a geographically closer wildlife rescue non-profit, which has a liaison here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Linda Buesching of Saugus, a devoted volunteer for Valley Wildlife Care (www.valleywildlifecare.org), took Duckie to Valley Wildlife's Brenda Varvarigos. Brenda then brought my little baby to her rehab-sanctuary in the West San Fernando Valley where, he/she was delivered to a 12-foot watery habitat with other orphaned ducklings.

Once Duckie is ready for the wild, he/she will be released to a natural outdoor duck environment, like a lake or (hopefully) a private home with a huge pond.

From that point on, Duckie will be an independent adult.

Releasing.

Letting go.

On our last day together, I realized how much my duckling wanted its freedom.

It sat motionless on my kitchen floor staring out through my sliding glass door. Minutes passed as Duckie gazed at the pool, hillside, and other birds in flight.

I knew in my heart that its tiny, feral heart needed to be out there ASAP.

This would be Duckie's second chance for survival.

That understanding lifted my already sniffling spirits.

For good luck I gave Duckie a parting gift: one of Grandma's booties.

Sure, I knew that sock would be history once Duckie became an adult. But for now, it will be a nurturing memento of me.

As for its remaining mate: That will always remind me of my precious webbed-foot border and how happy this human was to have a hand in its winged ascent.

Linda Buesching invites anyone with an orphaned or injured bird (or other form of wildlife) to call her at (661) 297-5074, or to contact Brenda Varvarigos of Valley Wildlife Care at (818) 346-8247.

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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