First published in the Angel Animals Story of the Week on June 11, 2011.

By Martin Gawne

Even in the midst of our major cities, nature finds a way to survive and thrive.

My family and I live six miles from the heart of downtown Chicago and two blocks from the lakefront in a complex of sixteen brick townhomes. To gain access to a central courtyard the townhomes all face it’s necessary to walk through a front entrance with a lobby.

We do not have yards, but eight of the townhomes have garages with decks on top. A brick wall surrounds each deck.

Our neighbors have been in Germany on sabbatical the past year. Some weeks ago, I jumped over on to their deck to pick up something, when I noticed a Mallard hen nesting on a clutch of eggs in a vacant pot. The Mallard flew out of the pot and perched on the brick wall where she watched me very warily.

The Mallard stayed on that nest for weeks. We have no idea when she was feeding or when she left the nest. At night? Early morning? If she was eating greens from our rooftop deck garden, we barely noticed it.

The deck provided a relatively secure, safe place for the Mallard. She was literally up on a rooftop and off the ground where no other animals, such as raccoons, could find her or her eggs. But the neighborhood is also home to a peregrine falcon we had photographed this past winter, perching on another deck a few doors down.

A few days ago, we heard the ducklings — eleven of them! Even our dog’s ears perked up from hearing the chirping and quacking outside our window. The ducklings left the deck and (jumped?) down to the small patio between the house and garage. Ground cover is there but not a lot. Miraculously, no one seemed to be hurt. They were moving between the patios at the rear of the townhouses. We put out lettuce, wild birdseed, and a baby pool for them.

Eventually, however, they moved down a “gangway” to the front of the complex, into the interior courtyard. Now they have gone down to the lower patios, which are six feet lower than the sidewalk, where they run between the patios and through the wrought iron fences.

In this part of the complex there is little grass with no way out to the street and toward the lakefront, unless the ducklings could fly out like their mom. Again, we put water and food out for them, and they seemed to like that.

Now the drama began. How long could the ducklings stay? How long would the mother be content to keep them at the lower patios? What if she tried to escape? If she were able to leave the complex with her ducklings through an open garage door and did not follow  a route through an underpass, she would be leading her ducklings on a perilous walk to the lakefront across several busy streets, including Lake Shore Drive.

At this time of year, the lakefront is teeming with people. We were also fearful that our well-intentioned neighbors, including young children who might want to round up the ducks, would be a bigger threat to them than any predators. We knew we needed to find a solution.

We called Chicago’s North Park Village Nature Center, and they recommended a group that is part of the Chicago Audubon Society called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors. The volunteers who work with this organization are unsung heroes who respond to thousands of calls every year and save hundreds of birds.

We called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors on Sunday, and they were able to send out volunteers the very next morning. They safely captured the ducks with some assistance from my wife, Jean, and family friend, Carmen. Jean said these ladies could not have been more gentle or nicer.

The Mallard mom was also an inspiration. Our fear was that she was going to fly off and not come back. Then the rescue people would have to leave without her. But she was devoted to her babies and had no intention of leaving them.

The ducks will be held for observation for a few days to make sure they are all healthy and then will be relocated to a pond or river. The rescue folks were telling Jean that Lake Michigan is actually not an ideal place to raise young ducklings because its waters are too rough.

All told, our urban duck tale has a very a happy ending. This morning I looked out our window to listen for the duck and her ducklings and was wistful not to hear or see them. Although we already miss this wonderful mother and her beautiful brood, we are thrilled that they will be relocated to a home that is ideal for them.

Visit to view images of the ducks.

Martin Gawne and his family live two blocks from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood with their Bernese mountain dog, Bonita and box turtle, Sparky.

What are your experiences with wildlife rescue? Has it been rewarding to help animals in nature?
Allen and Linda Anderson

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