Hen mallard hatches her ducklings on a lively nesting site on preschool playground in Alexandria
The duck was undisturbed by all the energy around her as she incubated her nine eggs while children played on the Community Preschool playground at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria. The ducklings hatched on May 27.
It was graduation night at the First Lutheran Church in Alexandria on May 24 for students ages 3-5 in the church’s Community Preschool classes.
About a dozen young children were running around, yelling and chasing each other like kids do around the playground on the northwest corner outside of the church at about 6 p.m. Parents talked outside the chest-high fence that surrounds the equipment, and one hen mallard sat still as a statue on a nest, seemingly oblivious to the energy around her.
“I think she found that spot on those rainy two weeks,” Community Preschool assistant teacher Helen Maier said. “We could see them out the window, the (drake and hen) pair of them walking around the playground. We spent a lot of time just looking out the window at them.”
The teachers and young kids had no idea what the mallards were up to until the sun came back out and it was time to play outside again.
“(Community Preschool teacher) Kelli (Risnes) said, ‘I think I see a mother duck out there right in the center of the heart of the playground,’” Maier said. “We chased her off that first day, but she has held solid since.”
The hen mallard found the wood chips under the platform that leads to the slide to be a perfect spot to build a nest. As of May 26, she had been there for about 27 days, spending almost all of her hours incubating her nine eggs that ended up hatching on May 27.
The incubation period for mallard eggs takes approximately 25-29 days. Many bird species are incredibly loyal to their nest once the egg-laying process is complete, hesitant to leave it even when faced with danger from natural predators in the wild. This specific hen mallard -- who one class named Bella -- certainly showed strong motherly instincts.
“She just sits and watches us, and we watch her,” Maier said. “We avoided the slide for a while, but we figured out that we could go on it. We peek through the little hole and look at her. We’re watching and observing how she’s adding feathers to her nest.”
During incubation, waterfowl will take short recesses away from the nest -- often to feed and preen. Females will cover the nest when they leave to provide insulation and keep the eggs hidden. The students saw this all first hand.
Melisa Schueler, Community Preschool director and teacher, said their staff was a little worried initially about how safe this nesting location would be. While the hen likely had no idea the atmosphere she was getting herself into, the playground proved to be a safe spot away from the many traditional nest predators that threaten a successful hatch.
“We were excited to have her, but we weren’t sure what would happen to the duck or the eggs,” Schueler said. “We started doing some research. What should we do? Should we call the DNR? So we just thought, well, she’s not moving. The kids are listening very well and protecting her. So we got some caution tape, put it around and put some cones out. The kids love watching her and say ‘hi’ to her every day.”
Teachers enjoyed using it as an exciting, unexpected learning opportunity.
“It’s been fun because we’ve been reading books about them in class,” Schueler said. “Books with pictures of ducks. What really happens? The incubation period and how long they stay with mommy and when they go off on their own.”
(The original version of this story was updated after the ducklings hatched on May 27)