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Stranded ducks evacuated from seniors' home

Fourth year in a row, say staff

Chateau Mission Court residents were delighted last week when wildlife officials rescued a family of ducklings trapped in their courtyard for the fourth year in a row.

WILDNorth animal rescue specialists teamed up with staff at St. Albert’s Chateau Mission Court on June 23 to extract a female mallard and her eight ducklings from the building’s courtyard.

Mission Court administrative assistant Danielle McCaskill said residents first spotted a nesting mallard in the building’s east courtyard about four years ago. While residents loved their new neighbour, they also knew the bird was in trouble — the courtyard was fully enclosed, with no way for the bird’s ducklings to get to the Sturgeon River.

McCaskill said staff tried to herd the ducks through the building, but the birds sat down as soon as they touched carpet. Staff called WILDNorth (northern Alberta’s wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization) to haul the ducks the rest of the way.

McCaskill said a duck has nested in one of the seniors' home’s two courtyards every year since, with WILDNorth summoned to rescue the bird each time. Staff and residents were unsure if it was the same duck or a series of ducks.

“Maybe they spread the word?” she mused.

Either way, residents at the lodge now keep an eager eye on the courtyard for the duck’s arrival each year, McCaskill said.

Resident Ilona Szell, 87, said she was very happy to see the duck back in the courtyard again, adding that she enjoyed watching wildlife on the Sturgeon.

“They’re so cute!” she said of the ducks.

“I wish they would keep it in here!”

Rescue operation

McCaskill said staff blocked both doors to the east courtyard once they saw the mallard in it this year. They also covered two grates in the yard so ducklings wouldn’t fall through them. When residents spotted freshly hatched ducklings, staff put in a call to WILDNorth.

It’s common for people to see ducks nesting in less-than-ideal places at this time of year, Dale Gienow, executive director of WILDNorth, said in an interview.

“One of the places we often find them are in courtyards,” he continued, as they are enclosed, safe-looking areas easily accessible to those with flight.

Ducks pick nest sites near water and lead their broods there about 24 hours after hatching, Gienow said. If the ducklings hatch in a courtyard, the babies are stuck since they can’t fly. His group gets dozens of calls a year to bail ducklings out of courtyards, backyards, and other traps.

The Gazette observed the Mission Court mallard and her family waddling about the east courtyard for several hours prior to WILDNorth’s arrival. Interns Jayden Cleveland and Austin Schelstraete nabbed the mallard with a large net, causing the panicked, peep-peeping ducklings to scatter to the four winds. Mission Court staff ran about to herd the babies toward Cleveland and Schelstraete so they could scoop the birds into a box.

“Mission accomplished! Went off without a hitch!” joked Schelstraete, after a very busy few minutes.

Gienow said it is important to keep mother mallards and their ducklings together as, unlike geese, mallards tend not to adopt babies they don’t hatch. If you catch the ducklings before the mother, the mother might flee in fear, leaving you with a bunch of orphans to raise. (His group gets about 350 such orphans a year.) Likewise, when you release the birds, you set out one duckling before you let the mother go so the mother goes to the duckling instead of flying off, at which point you release the rest.

A small crowd of Mission Court residents gathered by the nearby boat launch to watch Cleveland and Schelstraete release the birds. The mallards hustled out of their boxes, mobbed up, and scooted off into the Sturgeon.

“So beautiful! So nice!” said the crowd.

Gienow said the Mission Court mallard is probably the same bird coming back each year, convinced by its repeated rescues that it has found a great nesting site. He encouraged people who have courtyards like this one to keep them full of deterrents and human activity to discourage birds from nesting in — and needing rescue from — there.

McCaskill said ducks continue to nest in the Mission Court courtyard despite it being ringed by owl decoys and frequently used by residents — not that residents seem to mind.

“It just gives them something to look forward to every summer.”

Anyone who spots wildlife in apparent distress should contact WILDNorth at wildnorth.ca/wildlife-concern or 780-914-4118 for advice.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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