Powder puff derby was race to the pond

Powder puff derby was race to the pond By Bob Karolevitz "Come quick," Phyllis shouted. "There's a baby duck on our lawn!"

"You've got to be kidding," I answered. "Except for a couple of rain puddles, there isn't any water for ducks within a quarter of a mile."

But, sure enough, Phyllis was right.

The duckling, no bigger than a chicken egg, was scooting through the grass, going who knows where. We rushed out of the house after it.

It was a fast little devil, but with a fish net, we finally caught it. We had to because the dogs or barn cat would have gobbled it up in a hurry.

What kind of duck was it? Where did it come from? Then it dawned on us. Several weeks earlier we had seen a female wood duck scouting out a hole high up in a big hackberry tree at the corner of our house.

Apparently it had made a home there, and when Woody I was hatched, he jumped or was pushed out of the nest when he was just a day or two old. It was, we learned later, typical of wood ducks, as the powder-puff balls of fuzz � as many as a dozen or more of them � flutter down to the ground.

That's when the mother emerges and begins to lead her new brood overland to water. Only this time no hen was around.

"What'll we do with him?" Phyllis asked. "We can't just leave him (or maybe it was a her) for the dogs to catch."

So hurriedly we devised a screened-in shelter weighted down with a cement block. It didn't suit Woody I at all.

He pecked at the sides and tried desperately to get out. We didn't know what to do � and that's when Phyllis spied Woody II. He was working his way toward sudden death near the chicken pen. If those cannibalistic birds could reach him through the fence, he'd be gone in a minute.

We caught him too, and now we had two fuzz balls struggling to escape our makeshift duck abode. Phyllis ran to the house to call our son-in-law, Pat, who she figured might know about such things.

"Take them to the pond," he calmly suggested, so that's what we did.

The pond, which was probably the ducks' instinctive destination in the first place, is way beyond our barn, several hundred yards from the hackberry tree. Woody I and Woody II would have had to go through two fences, a feed lot and a two-acre raspberry patch to reach the water.

Gingerly we carried them to what is a small secluded lagoon, surrounded by giant cottonwoods and fed by drainage and our water system. It contained no large-mouth bass or snapping turtles which, our literature said, were prime predators of baby wood ducks.

Carefully we set the two foundlings down on the muddy bank. Without a peep of thanks, they scurried into the water and paddled away. They were in their element, probably where their mother intended them to be.

But where was she? Did Woody I and Woody II have other siblings that we never saw?

As I write this, we don't know whether the story has a happy ending or not. But then wood ducks for years and years have had it tough.

First, the Swamp Act of 1849 eliminated some 70 million acres of old-tree habitat. Then the brilliant plumage of the male became the fad for decorating women's hats. Next the iridescent feathers were in high demand by fly-tying trout fishermen, until by 1918 wood ducks became so scarce that they were protected by international treaty.

Since then, though, with a continuing campaign to provide nesting boxes by conservationists, the species has not only survived but proliferated. Which brings us to the saga of Woody I and Woody II.

Maybe they'll make it, and maybe they won't, but Phyllis and I have at least temporarily replaced Momma Duck in Mother Nature's scheme of things.

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