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It all started with my new DSLR camera. And the brand-new family of ducks near my job in Largo, Florida made for perfect subjects. Thats where I met Q, his mom, Lucy, and his siblings in September 2017 in a corporate park. They were Muscovies: a large breed of duck with turkey-like facial skin called caruncles. These ducks were super fun to watch, and the ducklings ridiculously cute.

A photo of a black-and-white duck with a group of small ducklings sitting in the grass near a tree by the water.

Lucy and her brood.

I noticed Q right away, though I didnt call him that – yet. He was the biggest in Lucys ten-duckling train. Over my weeks of photo shoots, he feathered out and developed a unique white patch on his neck, so he was easy to recognize. His relative size and general behavior had me pretty certain he was a boy.

To pacify my new models, I carried a mason jar of dried yellow corn for them to snack on at least five days a week. By mid-October, I didnt have to hunt for them; Lucy and her family would come to me. They were crazy for dried corn, though it has no nutritional value – the Twinkies” of duck food. Wed meet by the deck of The Breakroom Bar & Grill for the Twinkie exchange. Precocious Q would try to eat out of my hand but couldnt quite get the hang of it without awkwardly biting my fingers.

On November 15th, I was hanging with the brood on my lunch break. I specifically remember seeing the big one with the white patch of feathers” because he took a rather large poo dangerously close to an unwitting restaurant patron. I laughed. The customer, engrossed in his phone, didnt even notice as the perpetrator waddled off shamelessly.

When Id started taking pictures of Lucys family, I had the typical reaction to cute ducklings. But they were, initially, just ducks to me. The more I visited with these kiddos and their mom, though, the more concern I felt for their well-being. Lucy had showed me a level of trust that made me feel we had an important relationship, maybe even a shared responsibility for her little ones. They were far more than little models to me by then.

The next day at lunch, I made my usual duck count. Ten ducklings make a large, unwieldy brood – tricky for a momma duck – but so far, they had all been together. That day, though, someone was missing. I recounted (as we like to do in Florida). Same result. I looked around for a straggler. Nope. The big one with the white patch of feathers” wasnt there and he wasnt prone to straggling. My heart sank.

It’s unusual for a duck momma to be able to keep all her ducklings safe from predation out in nature, but Lucy had clearly done an outstanding job. Her boys and girls were now large enough that typical aerial predators couldnt carry them off or swallow them on the spot. What had happened to this missing one? Did he get hit by a car? Or was there some other predator out there? Had you asked me three months earlier about a missing duck, I would have said, Thats just nature. Not so at this point. After weeks of getting to know these ducklings, I had to find him.

Immediately after work, I went searching. Success! I eventually spotted him sitting alone in the field between two retention ponds. That was odd. He wasnt quite ready to be on his own. I took a tentative, closer look and realized he could not get up. He seemed dehydrated, so I brought him some pond water. He drank, but he still couldnt move. There was no sign of blood, and I couldnt tell what was wrong. What to do now? Take him to a vet? Was there even a vet open after hours? Do vets take ducks?

What I did know was that I couldnt leave him there. Carefully I cradled him and moved him to the grass near my car while I figured out how to transport him. A collapsible grocery bag and a towel from the trunk would work. I moved him into the towel-cushioned container and into the passenger seat so I could keep an eye on him. He was cautious and curious, but not stressed. He and I had an established relationship, and he seemed relieved he wasnt alone. Well never know if he understood that Lucy had to choose between him and his nine other siblings, but there was nothing she could do for him. Now it was on me. I called my husband, Bob.

Whatever you do,” he said, dont bring him home.”

Well, hes already in the car.”


A photo of a duck sitting in a box with a towel.

Q in his make-shift traveling container.


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