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Apodaca: Empty-nester feels special kinship with Momma Duck

June 22, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

"Be kind to your web-footed friends, for a duck may be somebody's mother."

I haven't been able to get that old ditty, sung to the melody of "Stars and Stripes Forever," out of my head.

I've been stuck on ducks since driving home along Jamboree Road one day last week and glimpsing a family of them, one adult accompanied by several tiny ducklings, waddling heedlessly along the sidewalk as cars whizzed by on the busy thoroughfare.

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After I got home I continued to worry about the ducks' dangerous excursion. (Is this where the term "bird-brained" comes from?) So I went back out on foot, accompanied by my dog, to look for the wayward brood. What I'd do if I found them, I had no idea.

I wasn't the only one concerned about the ducks' welfare. The guard at the front gate of my community told me that several other residents had also inquired about them. By then the ducks were gone from sight, but the guard told me they had actually crossed to the other side of Jamboree a short time earlier.

Crossed Jamboree? Were they crazy? What were they thinking? Do ducks think?

I wanted to know why the ducks crossed the road, and getting to the other side wasn't enough of an answer.

"Ducks aren't really that bright," said Valerie Schomburg, senior animal control officer with the Newport Beach Police Department. "Every once in a while they go out onto a busy street."

This time of year is the busiest for duck traffic because it's hatching season, she said. The ducklings I saw were probably no more than a few days old, too young to fly so they were being led on foot by Momma Duck in search of food.

This being Newport Beach, these ducks apparently thought the best place to find such sustenance was Fashion Island.

Schomburg often receives duck calls from local residents, but the options are limited. Animal control workers can try to reunite a lost duckling with its mother, but it's illegal to move a whole family or an adult duck. "Nature has to take its course," she said.

When the ducks traverse busy roadways, motorists will often slow and attempt to maneuver around them. But the sad reality is that the vast majority of ducklings fall victim to any number of hazards, from storm drains to hungry predators. Out of an entire brood, just one baby might survive to adulthood, Schomburg said.

Some people aren't charmed by ducks. They're annoyed by the birds' shenanigans, and consider the creatures a nuisance when they make themselves at home in yards and pools.

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