Mama duck crying with only 4 of her chicks

I spent two hours this afternoon with this mama duck on my street.

She was quacking up a storm and pacing back and forth, followed dutifully by her four little ducklings.

Walking towards storm grate 1

She kept walking around and around this storm grate, and back and forth across the street.

Pausing at storm grate 2

When I took a look, I heard a lot of chirping coming from inside the grate — some of her babies had fallen in, and she wouldn’t desert them!

It was heartbreaking to watch her crying, pacing round and round, back and forth.

Everytime she would pause near the grate, the little ducklings would sit and wait for her to start moving again.

To make matters worse, a neighborhood cat was intermittently chasing her and the ducklings.

Walking around storm grate 3

While my neighbor kept an eye on mama and her chicks, so they wouldn’t get run over by any cars, or attacked by the cat again, I ran into my house to call the City to see if they could send someone to open up the drain and get the chicks out.

The city operator sent a dispatch to their storm drain guys, and was also required to call animal control. So I went back outside to help keep watch and wait for help.

In the meantime, Laurel came home from school and got updated on all the happenings. She brought over a pan of water for the ducks, as they had now been pacing for more than an hour, but mama showed no interest in drinking.

Forty-five minutes later, an animal control officer called me on my cell phone. He said that the ducks often hide their chicks in the drains to keep them safe, and that the drains usually have several outlets that the chicks eventually flow out with. Most times, he said, they just let nature take its course and leave the ducks alone. I believe he also said even if they got the ducklings, they would have to take them in and they’d be separated from the mother anyway.


Mama looking at storm grate 4

It just didn’t seem like this mama hid her ducklings in this drain– if she did, how was she planning on getting them out? I think they fell in.

Boy, this didn’t sound good. What could we do? Laurel, my neighbor, and I stood around another ten minutes discussing the situation more, sadly getting ready to go back home and “let nature take its course.”

Just as we were turning to head home, we heard a loud rumbling coming down the street.


City of Sacramento Utility truck

The City of Sacramento to the rescue!

A huge city utility truck pulled up in front of us.

Duck Rescuers have arrived

Out jumped Henry and Alvaro.

“The Duck Rescuers are here!” shouted Henry. All of us shouted joyful thanks.

Opening manhole in the middle of street intersection

They would have to release water into the drain, then go down the manhole in the middle of the street intersection to catch the ducklings.

Releasing water to flow to the storm drain

They turned on the water from the truck’s water tank.


Water reaching storm drain

And it slowly ran down the gutter into the drain.

View down manhole

Down in the manhole, Henry was waiting for the ducklings to show up. Once he caught them, he’d hand them up to Alvaro.

It looked like there were three outlets down there.

First duckling rescued

Yay, first duckling rescued!

First duckling being petted

After all that trauma, duckling #1 deserves being petted.

First two ducklings

Strong hands cradle tiny life

First two rescued ducklings heading back towards mama

The first two chicks returning to mama. She quacks with happiness.

But we can still hear more chirping down below– one or two more chicks maybe– taking longer to flow down.

Five more ducklings rescued!

Oh my gosh, it’s five more chicks, for a total of seven ducklings rescued.

Mama duck had lost more than half of her babies!

Mama duck and 11 ducklings reunited

Here they are, all eleven chicks with mama duck. (One is partially hidden on the other side of mama’s tail.)

As soon as she had all her chicks, she booked it out of there, down the street, seemingly towards the river levee.

City workers working of loosening drain grate

Finally, after much thanks to Henry and Alvaro, they adjusted the storm grate and told us that some other neighborhoods put a fine mesh screen under the grate to prevent baby ducklings from falling through.

If we give them a call, they can come out to help lift the grate up so the screen can be placed.

I’m sure I’ll be looking for an old screen door, or making a trip to Home Depot soon.

First duckling rescued, close up

Thanks City of Sacramento, a mother’s cry is universal.