The first time I spotted Mabel was May 16, 2015. It was almost completely dark outside and she flew over my head into our backyard.
“What was that?” I asked my husband. We were in the driveway about to get into our truck to go celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary.
“A huge bird just flew over my head,” I explained, walking to the backyard.
I pushed opened our gate, and much to my surprise, saw a female Wood Duck on the ground beneath our Black Walnut tree.
“Drew, there’s a duck back here!”
We’ve had a Wood Duck box in the tree since 2008, but we’ve never had a duck in it. My husband came to the backyard to see. The duck flew up into the Black Walnut tree, perching herself on a branch.
“Maybe she’ll go into our box!” I said.
“Maybe,” my husband responded.
My cousin Trevor had told me if we cleaned out the box (from the squirrels that had nested in it) we might get a duck. I explained this to my husband and asked him if we could pleeeeease clean out the duck box. After all, she was clearly looking for a house.
“Yeah. It won’t take long.”
He shook his head and giggled knowing how much it would mean to me if we could quickly clean out the duck box. Then he went to the garage to grab a ladder. I ran and grabbed my camera trying to photograph a duck in a tree with almost no light. My husband laughed. As he came into the backyard with the ladder, the duck flew away. So over to the duck box we went.
Drew set up the ladder and climbed up it, opening the side of the duck box.
Looking up, I said, “Oh. I don’t know. Wait a minute.”
“I don’t know, it looks like there might be something in there.”
Drew reached his hand around and put it inside the duck box. When he pulled it out he held up a small item and asked, “Is this a feather?”
“I think she’s already been in the box,” he said, and he closed it back up.
I skipped around the yard, and he put the ladder away, and then we went to celebrate our anniversary. For a few days after, I tried to see the duck, but never had any success. Drew saw her a few times sitting in the tree. Then, almost exactly a month later, on June 17, 2015, I looked into our backyard around 7 p.m. and saw her sitting on top of the duck house. I grabbed my camera, my daughter Bean grabbed her camera, and we stepped out onto the deck to take a few pictures of the duck.
Bean and I loved watching the duck, and I told Bean, “I named her Mabel.”
“Mabel?” she asked.
When my husband got home he watched Mabel with me for a moment, telling me he had never seen her on her house, only in the tree. Then he had to go back by his garage, so he walked out into the yard and Mabel flew off her house.
Excited to finally have seen the duck again, I had to tell my cousin Trevor. Our parents raised Wood Ducks when they were kids, and Trevor has a fantastic backyard with lots of Wood Ducks. Trevor had told me baby Wood Ducks hatch about 28 days after eggs are laid. It had been 32 days since I had first seen her. I was so curious if there were babies in the box.
“Can you hear any noises?” I asked my husband who was in the yard.
“No,” he said, walking even closer to the Black Walnut tree.
I text Trevor an update. He responded that if Mabel laid an egg a day for 10 days + 28 days sitting, I had less than four days for babies. He warned me that if I wanted to see any babies, I better “be on high alert”, and he encouraged me to get up early in the morning, and if I do, I might see Mabel in her house. So today I got up at 4:10 a.m. to get ready for a fun day of writing, a special photo session, and, to try to see Mabel in her house. At 6:32 a.m. I saw her.
I sipped my coffee, watched her and snapped photos for about an hour. Then I decided I should get on with my day. When I text a picture of Mabel in her house to Trevor and his wife Jessie, I joked, “How am I suppose to leave this house when the babies might come out? I need a duck-sitter.”
Then I pulled the memory card from my camera and began uploading the pictures of Mabel to my computer. I was about halfway done when I decided I wanted just one more picture of her in her house, in case I never see her again. So, at 7:26 a.m. I grabbed another card and went back to the back door, but Mabel was no longer in her house.
Rats! I thought. Oh, well.
Then I spotted her on the ground, and I could see her beak moving. I snapped a picture of her through the back door window.
Continuing to watch her pace back and forth quacking, I started to get excited What? Was it going to happen right now? Were babies going to drop from Mabel’s house?
I looked up at the duck house, and . . .
After the first baby jumped, I opened the door and went onto the deck. I couldn’t believe it! It was happening NOW! When I was still home. Right before Father’s Day weekend. I was so excited I could barely hold my camera still. One or two little ones would step up to the hole, take a few seconds, and then they would jump, their wings out to their sides. Once they landed, they would waddle their way over to their mama. It was beautiful. And I was witnessing it. In my own backyard.
Nine babies dropped out of the box, and once they were all together, their mama led them away from the tree, between some of my husband’s things and back behind the garage. I smiled, jumped up and down, and wondered if I should go buy a kiddie pool for them to swim in. Then I text my cousin Trevor to thank him for encouraging me to get up early so that I might get to see Mabel on her house. He had proper enthusiasm for the experience I just had, and offered that the ducklings will be as elusive as the mom and I might not see them for days. I might not see them at all. I hope I do, but if I don’t, I’m thankful Mabel chose our yard to nest in and have her babies, and everything worked out for me to watch them as they dropped into this world.
Mabel and her 9 babies
Happy Father’s Day