Wilton nature center returns to save new crop of ducklings at Miller-Driscoll

WILTON — Why did the ducklings cross Route 33?

To get to a more natural habitat to ensure their long-term safety, Woodcock Nature Center’s Jennifer Bradhsaw said when she and Kris Zulkeski from KAZ Wildlife rescued a mother duck and her 10 baby ducklings last month from the courtyard just outside the Miller-Driscoll School in Wilton.

This is becoming an annual event for Bradshaw and the rest of the nature center, who have gone back to the same courtyard four years in a row to scoop up the newly-hatched ducklings and bring them to a more habitable area to better their chance of survival.

The initial need for intervention was discovered by a Miller-Driscoll teacher.

“She frequented the nature center with her children and participated in activities, so she was familiar with us,” Bradshaw said. “Four years ago, she reached out and told us about (the ducklings) and we went and figured out that it was not healthy or safe for them to be there.”

While it may be enjoyable for the Miller-Driscoll students to share a school courtyard with their new feathered friends, Bradshaw explained that the temporary environment was no place for a full nesting of ducklings to live a sustainable life. The environmentalist said that issues of starvation and, more importantly, predators could seriously shorten the life expectancy of the newborn ducks, which can typically last about 10 years.

“The mom comes, she makes her nest and lays her eggs. And then the ducklings hatch and they use the courtyard quite a lot,” Bradshaw recalled, but added that frequent visits from intrigued children pose another challenge to the wood ducks. “They are supposed to be afraid of humans.”

With wildlife preservation at the forefront of Bradshaw’s mind, she and Zulkeski spent upward of two hours corralling the ducklings and their mother to bring them to a pond adjacent to Route 33. They put each of the ducklings in a large painters bucket, and the mother in a dog carrier.

It was important to not separate the mother from the pack, Bradshaw said.

“The mother won’t attack us but she will rush us and flap her wings at us, being defensive and trying to scare us away from her ducklings,” Bradshaw said. After a few tries at securing the mother, the duo finally caught her with a net.

Each May, Bradshaw and Zulkeski have returned to the school’s courtyard to see another lot of eggs huddled away in a freshly made nest. Bradshaw surmises this is because the area is a safe haven for the hatching of the eggs, away from a natural predator. But she wondered whether a different mother duck was finding the same spot year after year to lay her eggs, or if one Wilton wood duck is making yearly returns to her summer home at the Miller-Driscoll courtyard.

“We were curious to see if this is the same duck, because (over the past three years) we have relocated the mother and ducklings to several different areas, including as far as the north side of Ridgefield,” Bradshaw said. “Today, we actually put a band on her, and next year we will see. It is possible it is the same one.”

If the same duck returns in May 2022, the Nature Center would then take up the naming process, she said.

Bradshaw said Woodcock receives an “astronomical” amount of calls in the springtime about baby animals hatching on private properties around town. Residents reach out to Bradhsaw and her cohorts to seek advice on how to handle the town’s various wildlife species.

The wildlife educator remained adamant in her advice.

“If there is an animal or family of animals in your house, in the attic or between the walls, call a licensed nuisance wildlife officer and they will handle it,” she said. “If it is a wild bird, or animal, or I’ve gotten calls about turtles in people’s backyards asking if they should bring it to a pond, I would say ‘no.’ There is a reason the mother decided to lay the egg or have her children there. It is a safe spot.”