The Anaheim Ducks may have won the Stanley Cup this year, but 10 Santa Monica ducklings are winning the hearts of the friends and neighbors of Patricia Stich and her husband Larry Merchant, including the heart of the 12-year-old granddaughter they are bringing up. Patricia and Larry have been hosts this spring to a Mallard drake and hen who made a nest in the bushes next to their backyard swimming pool, and now are hosts to the 10 ducklings hatched from the nest.
“In past years, we have had Mallard couples visit for a few days and leave,” Patricia said. “This year, the ducks stayed, and we later found a nest [hidden in the bushes] filled with eggs.” The eggs hatched on June 3, and that morning Larry hollered to Patricia to come and see the hen and her ducklings swimming in the pool. The homeowners rigged a rug mat at the pool edge as an access ramp so the ducklings could get in and out (especially out) of the pool.
But their Santa Monica hospitality did not stop there. Concerned that the ducklings did not appear to be eating and might perish for lack of food, Larry brought poultry meal from Centinela Feed on Lincoln Boulevard, and the hosts spread it on a cookie sheet which the ducklings have been feeding from since. (The weight of Mallard ducklings increases by a factor of 30 during their first eight weeks.)
One day, a murder of crows was eyeing the ducklings from a telephone wire, so a bird-loving friend brought in a scarecrow he had used in the past to protect small feathered friends of his own. And then there was Jack, the family dog – he was as fascinated with the ducklings as everyone else, so Patricia and Larry fashioned a barrier out of lawn furniture to separate the dog’s yard from the pool area.
Most Mallards pair in the early fall and remain together throughout the winter and the spring breeding season until the eggs have been laid, when the drake takes off (men!), but for a reason – “He might attract predators with his colorful breeding plumage,” according to the State University of New York at Albany. (The drake has the distinctive green head and white ring at the neck, while the hen is a more camouflaged dull brown.)
Patricia Stich reported that their “dad” came back to visit his brood each day, and the hen at first attacked him, keeping the ducklings at one end of the pool and him at the other, but she gradually let him come closer until they were side by side watching the little ones. Then one day he didn’t come back.