The store I work at is located near a number of aquatic habitats. As such, the animals you’re most likely to see are ducks and Canadian geese. Every year, a mother duck makes her nest in one of the planters in front of the store. What’s funny is that the planter she always goes to is right outside the door that leads into the grocery section.
This arrangement causes a number of problems, because score one for the duck, she did find a great place to lay her eggs that is both warm and safe from predators. But if it’s the same duck every year she’s obviously a slow learner because the most dangerous predator likely to find her nest are the ones walking past that planter she has chosen as her nesting grounds. And when you see a duck in a very busy place that is generally unfriendly to most forms of wildlife it’s bound to draw attention.
Of course people want to take pictures. As you can see above, I couldn’t resist the urge when I first found one of these nests almost three years ago. The thing is, animals have boundaries too and birds are especially delicate because the evolutionary advantage of laying eggs is that if the risk is too great, you can get the hell out of there and live to lay more eggs. I didn’t know this until a few years ago, but a mother duck will abandon her nest if she feels threatened.
When this duck comes around, we put up yellow tape around the planter, but that doesn’t always stop people. This brings me to the incident that occurred today.
The other major problem is caused by the fact that this planter is close to the fire lane and therefore the busiest part of the parking lot. Cars and trucks are always passing it and people are always walking in the fire lane up the sidewalk from the mall to our store. So when the mother duck goes out to feed, sometimes she swings back and there are ton of people near the nest. She’ll land on the sidewalk, naturally drawing attention and doing what she can to avoid anybody close by. She doesn’t go right to the nest while people are gawking at her because well, duh, she’s trying to keep the focus away from her precious cargo and to avoid them she’ll go into the parking lot, sometimes in the path of vehicles.
Generally people don’t get this. They just see a duck in the parking lot and they want to “help”.
One such woman kept ushering the duck further away from the building, which of course, just ushered the duck further into the parking lot. I was on the clock and very obviously an employee of the store, but I’m sorry, I had to say something.
“Ma’am,” I called. “Ma’am please leave the duck alone.”
“Well I just don’t want it to get hurt,” the woman shot back.
“I understand that ma’am,” I gestured to the planter. “But that duck has made her nest and she’ll abandon it if you keep bothering her. You need to leave her alone.”
“Well I’m sorry for being helpful!” And the woman stormed off and got into her car. The duck took shelter in one of the mulch islands right across the from the planter where her nest sat and eventually she did make it back to the nest, but that didn’t stop the gawkers and picture takers from getting close to the nest.
It make seem like I’m making a fuss over nothing, but try to look at it this way. Last year a local newspaper covered the journey of the newly hatched ducklings from the planter to the nearest body of water close to the mall. All of the papers had some story or another of very similar incidents involving the march of the ducklings.
Now imagine the worst case scenario. The best of that being that the eggs are just abandoned because people finally succeeded in scaring the mother off. Now we have dead eggs rotting in a planter and as if my fellow employees and I didn’t have enough to answer for over crap that happens in a corporate office several states away, we now have a dark mark of being a place that wildlife can’t safely raise their young. The worst of that scenario is that the ducklings do hatch and the mother still abandons them because people still get close and now we have dead ducklings to start off what was already a very rough spring. You think the local papers wouldn’t feed on that?
The well meaning people also need to get their act together. Animals are not people. Imagine you’re a pregnant woman going into labor and you’re trying to get to the hospital. How helpful would it be of some jackass kept hounding you the whole way? To quote John Hammond, “These creatures need our absence to survive, not our help. If we just step aside and trust nature, life will find a way..”
In other words, admire the beautiful animal. Blog about how odd it is to see such a wonderful thing happening in an ornate planter outside of a store you shop in. Otherwise just leave the thing alone and duck off.