The Tale of Max and Millie ~ a couple of Puddle Ducks

On the front porch of the Sidewalk House hangs a wall basket ~ don’t you know what fun we have planting it season to season! For the holidays, greens and pinecones and such; for Fall little pumpkins and colorful leaves, dried grasses and bittersweet. Summer? all kinds of greens and colors! In this photo we were playing with placement of Spring plants a few years back

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But this year? There was no early Spring planting because Millie chose the planter to build her nest again.

Millie's egg

Millie? Again?

Max and Millie are a pair of mallards who wandered over the berm and into our gardens some time in the late 80s.

First appearance? Consummating their marriage ~ at supper time outside our dining room window ~ in full view!  They honeymooned at the Sidewalk House, paddling about in the pond, preening on the rocks an hour or two each day, wandering off, and then returning the next afternoon for a swim. After a few weeks, they were gone.

Was it something we said?

The following Spring, Max and Millie waddled back into our yard once again. They followed the same path, stopping to see if there was corn left in the rock under the cherry tree, and then down the path to the pond. And so it has been every year since. A few weeks ~ in the Spring.

How silly these two are paddling back and forth in such a tiny puddle of water but to them, it is a luxurious private pool. While one swims, the other preens. They settle down for a while, taking turns watching while the other naps. After a bit, they stand up, nod to one another, give a quack or two, and then they are off ~ sometimes they waddle back down the berm and other times they fly away.

Max and Millie 6 4 2013

In 1994 Millie built a nest outside our front window ~ on the ground ~ in a corner ~ behind a small boulder. Her feathers and the mulch matched perfectly. We did not know she was nesting there until our dog sitter friend pointed her out. For a few weeks, along with our pooch, Magnolia Matilda, we watched her turn her eggs and sit. UNTIL one morning just as the sun was coming up, I was awakened by a loud quacking. It took a few drowsy minutes to realize it was Millie; she was carrying on something fierce! I ran downstairs and yanked open the front door. Staring up at me from her nest was a gang of masked bandits, egg dripping from their furry mouths. Egg shells were scattered all over the front yard. Millie was nowhere to be found. It was a heartbreaking scene, y’all!

Later that morning, we noticed a couple of drakes in the front yard. The two marched up and down the sidewalk, quacking frantically. First this way and then that way ~ back and forth, quite agitated. Then off they flew, not to be seen again that year.

In 2014, we were surprised ~ maybe shocked ~ to see an egg in the wall basket. How did it get there? Had it been deserted? Over the next week, an egg appeared each day. Curious! And then one evening we arrived home to find Millie sitting on her nest. She startled the mail carrier; we moved the mailbox off the porch. Remembering the masked nest raiders, we moved the bench away from the wall ~ no need to give them easy access. We watched. We never saw or heard ducklings ~ one day Millie was gone and there were but a few fragments of shells deep in the planter.

Millie 001

The next year, when Ken removed the winter greens from the planter, he covered it so it would not be accessible for a duck nest. This year, he planned on doing the same. Too late. One egg a day. Millie laid  8 eggs before she began sitting. Unlike Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle Duck who was not a good sitter, Millie sat faithfully. Some days she faced the mailbox; some days she looked out on the lawn. When the crew arrived to clean up the yard for the season, she sat. The foreman thought she was plastic. Through all the noise of trimmers, mowers and blowers, Millie sat. The mail carrier stepped up on the porch day after day day; Millie sat. The fan man came ~ he too thought she was a fake. He sat on a bench across the porch to watch for a blink or any movement at all. Millie stayed on the nest. When our boisterous grandpeeps and their two dogs were here for Spring Break, they were in and out the front door ~ all week. Millie was not phased. She is a good sitter.

We estimated the birth date. We watched. We listened. We peeked in when the momma duck was off on her daily break. Just eggs. It was a cold Spring. Millie hunkered down to keep her eggs warm. One morning, a few weeks ago, Ken stepped out to check on our sitting duck and there she was high in the nest. That afternoon? No duck, no ducklings, just a fragment of an egg. When did they hatch? How did we not hear them? How did the momma duck get eight ducklings out of that nest? The planter is several feet up. They had to be too young to fly? A momma just knows, I guess. As diligent as we were, we missed the bebes. Again!

Unlike our own peeps, they left the nest quietly without fan fare.

In the evening, with doors open, I hear a quack now and again. Has Millie moved her family to a hollow in the berm? For the privacy and safety of her family, we will let her be. Perhaps Max is guarding them.

Maybe next year, Millie, maybe next year we will get a peek at your precious ducklings. And maybe, just maybe you will take them for a swim in our little “puddle.”

Like life at Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm, it’s all about the little things at the Sidewalk House. Hugs, y’all!

Postscript: Y’all do know that we know Max and Millie are not the same Max and Millie who waddled into our gardens nearly 30 years ago. We find it curious that the generations that have followed know the path, know the saucer rock where we put cracked corn, and know their way to our (puddle) pond. They just know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to The Tale of Max and Millie ~ a couple of Puddle Ducks

  1. Steve Oreair May 28, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

    This past month I have followed a pair of nesting Kildeer ….every day I would ride out on the airfield and ck to see if the eggs hatched…mom and dad sat and protected their future offspring. This past Wednesday when I checked on my little family I was devastated. One of the parents was dead and the nest was empty…soft shell pieces scattered around. I know he or she was aggressively protecting the babies, but the hunter had his feast and killed my kildeer momma. Life is tough!

    • Jackie June 1, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

      That is tragic. Kildeer nesting on the ground certainly set themselves up for risk. But they were given the skills to distract predators away from those nests. Amazing to watch them feign injury to protect their eggs and brood. Such a striking bird. Did the mottled eggs blend in with rocks? Or how did the pair camouflage. Another sad story.

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