Maryville College is many things to the student body, but to two ducks, MC is a safe nesting ground. Two mallards have decided to mark this year’s territory on the Anderson lawn.
“Almost every year we have a pair that nests on campus somewhere,” said Dr. Drew Crain, professor of biology. Crain first learned where this year’s pair of ducks decided to nest when education division chair Dr. Terry Simpson alerted him to the situation.
“It was probably a little over two weeks ago,” said Simpson, who was on his way to work when he spotted the drake and the hen on the Anderson lawn.
According to Simpson, after a couple of days the hen “disappeared.” He deduced that the ducks had made a nest.
“At least once a day, I’ll go out there and check on her,” Simpson said.
Mallards have scoped out the MC campus for years, according to Crain. He has seen ducks nest outside of Sutton and even in the flowerbed between the split of the fork at the main MC entrance.
The incubation period for mallard eggs is 25 days, and Crain estimates that we should see little yellow ducklings by the week of the 23rd. The clutch size, meaning the number of eggs, will be anywhere from two to 15.
In order to ensure the eggs are kept warm, the female will stand up and turn the eggs several times a day. The male will not engage in this process, leaving the female responsible for their offspring. Ducks are precocial animals, meaning that once ducklings hatch, they are able to walk and seek food themselves. The ducklings will not have gender markers until they have matured, with males having green heads and females being brown.
“She’s just doing the best thing she knows how to do, which is raise her babies,” Simpson said of the hen. “I have a great respect for all mothers, especially animals.”
According to both Simpson and Crain, the best thing MC students can do for these ducks is to respect their space.
“Give them 15 yards of distance,” Crain said.
Putting stress on the mother would do nothing to help the hen or the eggs, and if harassed, the male can become aggressive. Crain stated that after the ducks hatch they may remain on campus for one or two days, but after that the ducklings will follow the mother off the campus and to Pistol Creek. The young ducks will have to cross Lamar Alexander Parkway to complete this task.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope they make it,” said Simpson, who grew up on a farm and even helped to birth a calf as a child. “I hate to see animals like that … just not make it.”
As these ducks remain in hiding until the big day, the MC faculty and staff await their arrival, and hopefully we will get a peak of the ducklings before they journey to the creek.