I was at one of the beaches where documenting the Piping Plovers and noticed a little chocolate brown duckling shape smack in the middle of a wide sandy beach, sitting all alone. I moved closer to the duckling and it ran towards me, peeping and piping all the while. The little thing would run pell mell through the flats and then plop down exhaustedly. It appeared to be a Common Eider duckling but, not having seen any that small, I wasn’t entirely sure. I looked for its Mom but could not find her.
To my utter surprise, a short time later and while I was still trying to figure out what to do, a second duckling appeared. It, too, was moving in the same direction, running and plopping. I scooped both ducklings up and put them together and they immediately began to cuddle and snuggle with each other. A sweet couple with a baby agreed to watch the pair while I went further down the beach looking for Mom.
I only found a dead female Common Eider and decided these babies were never going to make it on their own. A quick call to wildlife rehabilitator Jodi from Cape Ann Wildlife and she referred me to her friend Hilary, who she said would take the ducklings out on her boat to search for, and possibly join, another Common Eider family.
One thing you should know about Common Eiders is that Common Eider Moms, along with non-breeding “Aunties,” band together for protection. The individual broods come together to form a crèche, which may include as many as 150 ducklings!
The sweet couple and I packed sand at the bottom of one of Charlotte’s beach pails that were conveniently stored in the car’s trunk, placed the ducklings ever so carefully, and then gently covered with an unused diaper. I drove home with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand applying slight pressure to the diaper. I was just imagining what would be the outcome of the two rambunctious little fellows escaped in my car.
Stopping for a minute at our home to grab a larger container because I was again imagining the little escape artists, this time running around on a boat. Husband Tom had packed a crate and Charlotte had a brief, but squealing-with-joy moment.
I arrived at Harbor Loop just before sunset and after quick introductions, Hilary escorted the ducklings and I to her skiff. Pulling out of her slip and passing the Schooner Ardelle two minutes hadn’t gone by when eagle-eyed Hilary spotted a crèche! She zoomed the boat over to the other side of the Harbor at Pirate’s Lane and sure enough there was a small flock of five ducklings and several adult female Common Eiders.
Slowly and expertly Hilary steered the boat towards the flock. I placed the ducklings in the water however, they all began to swim in opposite directions. It looked bad for a few minutes but Hilary turned the boat around and ever so gently corralled the birds until the flock was headed back toward the orphans. The two were peeping continuously and as the flock grew closer, the adults could hear their peeps. The Moms and Aunties began craning their necks and swimming towards the peeps. After only another brief moment, it appeared flock and babies were united. We didn’t hang back very long because the boat we thought may distress the birds.
I am happy to report that the following morning I walked down to the bottom of our hill and found the crèche of Eiders. Guess how many ducklings were swimming with the Moms and Aunties? Seven!
Hilary was simply amazing. She was ready at a moment’s notice to help. This was actually the third time she has reunited Common Eider ducklings.
Many in the community already know and love Hilary for her GHS sailing program, but for me, it was the first time meeting her and it was completely my joy. Thank you, thank you Hilary.You are the best!
Currently Jodi has some little Wood Ducklings in her care. Please consider donating to Cape Ann Wildlife. Who would I have called if not for Jodi, and who else would know to ask Hilary for her kind assistance? Visit the Cape Ann Wildlife Facebook page here. Thank you!