The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota, believe that peace within the world begins with peace in their own hearts. They follow Gospel living, just as Saint Francis of Assisi did nearly 800 years ago. He revered all living things and considered all creatures to be his sisters and brothers. So it might come as no surprise that Clare, the Mallard duck who is named after Saint Francis’s friend and companion in religious life, found safety and comfort in the inner courtyard of St. Francis Convent.
Birth is usually a private matter between a mother and a father. In this case, Mama Duck had a supportive family of sisters and employees who oversaw her every move from the St. Clare Library windows along the courtyard.
The stages of a duck’s life were chronicled for everyone to know what was happening and what to expect next. Some excerpts:
“Many of you have been most concerned about my well-being and are worried about what I have been eating. Don’t be! My favorite things to eat are various types of plants, dragonflies, flies, crustaceans and worms.
“Last November, while flying south for the winter, I found a wonderful young Mallard to pair with. As with all my female friends, I had to find a safe place for our nest once we returned from our warm vacation. Here we will lay from 8 to 13 eggs per clutch. We need to make sure nesting place is very safe. I have been taught to abandon my nest if I feel too threatened, so staying 15-20 feet away would be most appreciated.
The father of my soon-to-be-babies is not a whole lot of help, although he occasionally comes to take me to breakfast. When I go to find food there is always the risk that some type of predator will take my eggs. I don’t think they would dare to pose a risk at the Convent!
“My eggs will need to incubate for about 28 days. It takes some of us several days to produce all of our eggs, so the incubation period when I am “sitting” on the nest won’t start until the last egg is laid. Nature has us do this, so the eggs will all hatch around the same time. The babies will be able to join me in the water for swimming soon after they hatch. We will need a little help from you to get out of the enclosed courtyard.”
When it is departure day, Clare seems agitated. She knows it’s time to leave the comfort of home and to brave the new wide world. That’s when the sisters line the courtyard windows and watch Tim Thomas and Sharon Kloss cover the grates, open the doors and hold large cardboard pieces as they encourage her and her chicks on their walk to freedom.
After the departure, the sisters continue to hear from Clare (actually, they hear from an alias, Pat Sharon, St. Clare librarian).
“I wanted all of you to know that the babies are doing just fine and to let you know how much they have grown. After their quick development during the first week of their lives, their growth is slowing slightly up to 10 weeks of age. The ducklings continue to grow stronger in the legs and are becoming used to the preening process. At around three weeks of age, the ducklings began to develop their first set of adult feathers, which poked through their down. Quacking, rather than peeping, began at three weeks and the ducklings also began to practice flying.
“Finally, adulthood for the ducklings will begin when they molt their first set of feathers for their second, adult feathers. This generally happens at about 3 to 4 months. The second set of feathers is thicker and fuller than the first set, allowing the duckling to fly with greater ease.”
“I have delivered this note to the convent, via airmail. I would like to thank all of you for your prayers, concern and care. Many of you were worried about whether the father of the ducklings will be helping me or not. Well, sometimes when we pick a mate, it is hard to tell, because not all Mallard drakes stay with their mate.”
Here is a simple explanation for that:
- Most mallard ducks – about 90% of them – do NOT mate for life. Because the hen tends to turn her attentions away from the drake after she's laid her eggs, the drake will feel left out and most likely leave for another hen. Thus, the drake and hen only temporary bond until the hen's eggs are close to hatching. The hen, however, is capable of looking after the ducklings without the drake (no surprise to any of you women out there!), although this gives the family a greater disadvantage for survival.
- However, there are some drakes that do stay to help protect the family and attack predators that may threaten until the ducklings are fully mature. Although they assist the hen in watching the ducklings, they would do so from a distance because most mallard hens tend to be very aggressive and would not permit anyone, not even the drake, to go near the ducklings. The female mallards may allow the drakes to watch them closely while we are off to fish for our own meal. Simultaneously, the drakes that stay with the family also prefer to maintain some personal space because he does not like being crowded by the noise of the ducklings under circumstances.
“We are all quite busy here in the river. As you can imagine the first week of life sees some of the quickest developments in ducklings. They are growing about 1 oz. per day! Some ducklings may not go into the water until after the first week. Within three days, the ducklings will have developed their oil glands to assist them with preening. We forage for food, although I still get most of their food for them. They LOVE bugs.
“Please say an extra prayer for us, as the chances of all of us surviving is quite small.”
Love and blessings to all of you.
Mama Duck (Clare)