Ducks hatching in local yard becomes annual spring rite

Contributed Photo Jemima Puddle-Duck and her ducklings swim in a pool at the home of Holly and Jeff Zander.

Local resident Holly Zander has a renewed appreciation for one of her favorite childhood books, “The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck,” written by Beatrix Potter.

Little did Holly know that one day, she would have a duck tale of her own.

Nine years ago, a landscaper noticed a duck nest in the Zanders’ fenced-in backyard. Holly called the DNR to ask if there was something they should do. The agent told her it would be best to stay away from the nest. Once the ducklings hatch, he explained, they need to get to the water within 24 hours to feed on the algae. Ducklings are precocial, which means they are capable of swimming and feeding right after they hatch.

Holly commented: “Every spring, for the past nine years, Jeff (her husband — a well-known, retired local dentist) and I hear a loud commotion in our backyard. We smile at one another, knowing the ducks have returned, and the nesting process is about to begin.”

The mallard drake accompanies the hen as they scout out the nesting site together. The nest is prepared with mulch and lined with breast feathers. The first pair found a perfect location between a decorative spruce and the wall of the house. The nest blended in nicely with its surroundings, making it difficult to see.

Holly mused: “One year, we had three nests — two in our backyard and one in the front of our house in a raised planter. We were worried about how the ducklings would get down from the planter. So Jeff put up a plank, and they made it out safely.”

The egg-laying process lasts for an equal number of days. (It takes 12 days to lay 12 eggs.) The hen waits to incubate until the laying is complete; this ensures all the eggs will hatch at the same time.

Once the incubation begins, mama duck — whom Holly affectionately calls Jemima Puddle-Duck — only leaves the nest once a day. Holly explained: “Usually, at about 4 p.m. each day, Jemima leaves to feed. We are always happy when we hear her quacking as she returns to her nest.”

In approximately 24 to 28 days, the eggs hatch within a 24-hour period. Unsure when the eggs will hatch, Jeff circles the backyard daily, looking to see if the ducklings are here, knowing they need to get to the nearby river to survive.

One year, the ducklings fell into a window well. Holly joked: “Jeff scooped them out with a butterfly net. They started following him around the yard. It was so darn cute.”

Another time, the ducklings hatched while the Zanders were out of town. Neighbors were on duck watch and discovered the new brood had gotten themselves into the pool but couldn’t get out. Fortunately, they were able to climb onto a plank to make their escape.

Holly explained: “This year was so unusual. On Palm Sunday, March 25, we heard Jemima quacking loudly. She had returned. We believe she began laying her eggs on Easter, April 1. Then came the blizzard on April 13, 14, 15. We had no idea where Jemima was. Her nest was completely buried. It took a week for the snow to melt, and there was Jemima, sitting on her nest.

“By the end of April, the eggs had not hatched. However, on May 29, we had ducklings in our backyard! We discovered there were five unhatched eggs (this was unusual), and six ducklings.”

The Zanders are unsure if this was a spring miracle or if new eggs had been laid, but they were delighted to see the latest hatch. My heart melted as Holly explained, “The ducklings needed to get to the river. On Wednesday, May 30, 2018, I got up early and, by 5:10 a.m., I opened the gate so Jemima could lead her babies to the water.”

Holly selected early morning, knowing it would be the safest time for them to get safely across the streets. Holly added: “I went out in the middle of the street, my arms spread out much like a police officer. I wanted to be sure any approaching early morning motorists knew the ducklings were in the street. The ducklings formed a tight line behind their mama. It took them 12½ minutes to cross Second Street and Riverside Drive to get to the river. I watched them as they made their descent into the water. It is always such a good feeling to help them reach their destination.”

I love this tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck as much as I love Beatrix Potter’s story; perhaps even more, because this tale is true. Thank you, Dr. Jeff and Holly Zander, for this delightful story of nature, kindness and compassion.

Question: Who was the weekend disc jockey at WTCH from 1968 through 1970?

Clothesline Conversation Answer: Jeff Zander was a weekend disc jockey while attending high school.

Lorna Marquardt is a former Shawano mayor.