Orphaned Ducklings Learning to be Ducks in UWS Apartment

Ducklings in a bathtub.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The five Mallard ducklings who lost their mother in a snapping turtle attack last Wednesday in the pool at the northwest corner of Central Park are recovering in an apartment on the Upper West Side. Michelle Gewirtz, a volunteer for the Wild Bird Fund, a nonprofit clinic for New York City’s injured, sick and orphaned wildlife, took them in after they were rescued by park rangers.

No, she hasn’t named them, she said, in a phone interview on Friday afternoon. In fact, she’s avoided bonding with them at all, because they are only two weeks old and might “imprint on her” and not know they are ducks. Michelle’s main jobs, aside from cleaning up after them “many times a day,” is to feed and introduce them to water, the latter being very important, because water stimulates the production of an oil that makes their feathers waterproof. So, into the bathtub they go. At night, they cuddle together in their cage to stay warm, as they would have under their mother’s wing.

Cuddling siblings.

Do they miss their mother?

“The first day or two they absolutely felt her loss and they called for her, and that was very sad,” Michelle said. “They were always calling for her — loud, very loud. After that they figured this place is comfortable, there’s lots of food, okay, this is the new normal. For me, too,” she added. “I’ve pretty much been in my house for three months.”

In about two weeks, when they are too big for the tub (right now, they’re about five inches long), the ducklings will go to the Wild Bird Fund’s storefront clinic, on Columbus Avenue north of 87th Street, to grow and develop some more, before being sent to a 100-acre sanctuary.

After eight or nine weeks, they will fly away. “I can’t control what happens to them after that,” Michelle said. “I can only hope they have a nice, long life.”

What about snapping turtles? WSR asked Rita McMahon, director of the Wild Bird Fund. Are they nasty creatures? “It’s just nature,” she replied. “They are omnivores, but they do like their meat. Almost every body of water in the park has snapping turtles, and some are really huge and a hundred years old. They’ll eat three ducklings at a time.”

One of the park’s snapping turtles.

Michelle said it is “miraculous” that the ducklings survived the long night of their mother’s death. “They are at the bottom of the food chain,” she explained. “They’re only three inches long when they’re born. Everybody eats ducklings: cats, rats, dogs, herons, egrets, turtles, raccoons. Plus, it was still in the 40s that night and they were in danger of hypothermia without the warmth and shelter of their mother’s wing.”

Against all odds, and with the help of humans, the five will surely make it to migrate. For now, they are floating in a bathtub above the neighborhood. “It’s a lot of work,” Michelle emphasized. “But a good diversion and a nice feeling to know I’m helping them move on — and, in the case of these five guys, that we, literally, helped save their lives.”

To learn more about the Wild Bird Fund or to donate, click here.

ABSURDITY, NEWS, OUTDOORS | 17 comments | permalink
    1. Jerome36 says:

      Thank you for caring for them. Great story.

    2. Robin Block says:

      This is probably the best news I’ve seen in 3 months. Thank you.

    3. Cathy Bernard says:

      This story is so heartwarming — thank you, Michelle & everyone who helped save these little guys.

      • Sit-Down Comedian says:

        Agree!
        BUT…can we be sure they are just “guys”?
        They COULD be both Guys-AND-Dolls*…and maybe the boy-ducks could serenade the girl-ducks with:
        “DUCK, Be a Lady Tonight”;
        “We Love You a Bushel and a PECK”, and;
        “Don’t Flap, You’re Rockin’ the POND”

        *5 1951 “Tony” Awards, including Best Musical

    4. April Leite says:

      I needed a happy story – thank you. ❤️

    5. MB/UWSer says:

      This IS such good news.

      A beautiful story that I needed to read right now. Thank you so much for sharing this and to Ms. Gewirtz for her wide open heart.

    6. Agnes Frank says:

      The best news I heard all week.

    7. Diana says:

      Wow amazing they were found by our rangers. How did they find them. During these times of quarantine it’s wonderful to learn of survival against all odds. Bravo to all who have helped!

    8. Celia says:

      I read every word of this story.
      Thank you!!

    9. Connie says:

      Thank you so much for the extreme kindness you are showing these adorable babies. How wonderful to save so many lives!! I know your group is wonderful and so much help is given to birds that most of truly love!!
      Keep us updated please.

    10. Carolina Jules says:

      Beautiful story!! Thank you for saving them!!

    11. Aubrey Clark says:

      Thank you for the work you do !

    12. Rochelle says:

      How incredibly fabulous . So nice to hear positive things happening in this crazy world we live in
      I am sure everyone thanks you for your effort and kindness

    13. Duck tales says:

      Thanks for this story. I’ve been enjoying the duck family by the Boat Basin on the Hudson. There were 10 ducklings and now I only see 3 with their mom.
      So glad these lucky ducks are being cared for.

    14. Freya Ellinwood says:

      I asked my brother what those ducks were eating on the lawn. He replied “quackers.”