The Gary Allan High School Annual Duck Walk
In what has now become not only a much anticipated and a viral sensation, but an inspiring symbol of intelligence, survival and team work, our resident female Mallard duck returns each spring to lay her eggs in the safety of one the interior courtyards of our school. Protected from predators such as foxes, coyotes and even other rival ducks, the mother lays her eggs in the same nest each year, typically laying 8-12 eggs each time, knowing that she will have to rely on the help of humans to escort her babies to the water once they hatch.
The eggs take about 28 days begin hatching, a process that may take up to 24 hours. They then need 1 day to dry off, be waterproofed by the mothers oil glands and strengthen their legs . By early morning the day after hatching, the mother will be ready to take her ducklings on the the 150 meter (491 foot) journey through the school hallways and down to the neighboring creek, which is the safest time of day to avoid encounters with other animals. This also gives the mother time to find an adequate hiding spot for their first night in the wild ¹.
In 2018 we had 2 broods of ducklings born in the courtyard, but as they were more than 2 months apart, we were uncertain if it was the same mother who returns annually.
In 2019, our first nest was discovered by staff on April 16th. The ducklings made their appearance on May 15th and were escorted to the river by delighted staff. The story was covered by CBC News and seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world!
Only 2 weeks later another nest was built in a different area of our courtyard than usual, which confirms that this is a second mother! We have no way to know if this is an offspring of the original mother, but it’s nice to think that this is becoming a family tradition!
Sadly, we did not have any hatchlings in 2020. (Could 2020 have been any worse!? ) We are hoping for another mother to arrive sometime in April 2021.
Do you have a family on your property that may need help to water once hatched? Here are some top tips 1
- Don’t move the family from the nest until all the ducklings are dry and ready to travel. (10-24 hours after hatching)
- Move the family in the morning because this gives them the whole day to get settled, feed and find somewhere safe and dry to roost for the night.
- Count the ducklings carefully before you start – it is surprisingly easy to lose one or two!
- (if walking the ducks to water is not possible) First, catch the mother – an easy way is to gain her confidence over the weeks that she is sitting. Put out food for her in a pet carrying basket with the door wedged open. She will get used to feeding inside. When her young are ready to leave, give the normal meal, making sure that the door can easily be closed on her. Once she is inside, cover the basket so she is in darkness and unlikely to panic. If this fails or you are too late to begin feeding, try throwing something over her, such as a coat or a towel. Hold the duck around her body, pinning her folded wings to her sides. Ducks are relatively docile as long as you can stop them from flapping their wings.
- Chasing should be kept to a minimum because the ducklings, which normally stand together in a tight bunch, may panic and scatter, making it difficult to find them again later. Get someone to watch where the ducklings go while you catch the mother.