Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pity the Ducklings

The oil spill spreading through the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast has people thinking about the effects of the big things on the environment and wildlife, but it may be worth remembering that for some animals, minor parts of the built environment that we don't normally give a second thought can be hazardous to animals.

A duck was leading her brood of ducklings along the side of a road when she lead them near a sewer grate and three or four of the little birds fell in. When I arrived on the scene, the mother duck was still there, with her remaining ducklings gathered around her, calling to them. They, in turn, peeped back, the sound echoing slightly in the concrete pipe. Eventually, the duck moved on, leading her remaining ducklings away. The trapped ducklings remained in the pipe, and in the afternoon, when I walked past again, I could still hear them, plaintively calling for a mother who couldn't reach them, and by now, was nowhere to be seen. Unable to move the grate, no-one could get to them, even though there was a ladder down to the water. Of course, the ducklings weren't the only vocal birds in the area, and if you weren't aware they were down there, you might not have even picked out there calls from the other chirps, peeps and calls.

I suspect that this sort of thing happens all the time. Ducks are ubiquitous, and being unafraid of humans for the most part, they're willing to nest in areas that other animals wouldn't dare. The upside is that this places them near a ready source of effort-free food, as people will feed them without a second thought. But it has it's downsides, something that only rarely occurred to me before today.

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