WASHINGTON — The duck stops here.
After four weeks as Washington’s newest tourist attraction, a mother mallard duck and her — count ’em — 11 ducklings were transported in a motorcade Sunday to a new and far more suitable setting in Rock Creek Park.
The whole group took to the water, well, like ducks, although there was a bit of drama along the way.
The transfer had been mapped out like a military operation for the mother duck, a capital celebrity since taking up residence at the main entrance to the Treasury Department. The building is on Pennsylvania Avenue, the prime thoroughfare that tourists use in walking to the White House, which is right next door.
The Secret Service uniformed division had provided protection for the nesting mother over the past four weeks. Agents had built and then extended metal barricades to keep tourists back from the nest, which the mother had constructed in a mulch pile surrounding a tree.
The hatching began Saturday afternoon and continued into a stormy night with heavy rain. Wildlife experts who had studied the nest believed there were nine eggs. It turned out there were actually 11 eggs; all hatched.
The mother and her offspring were left on the nest overnight so the ducklings could get oriented.
Early Sunday, in an operation more elaborate than the ducks’ move in the children’s classic “Make Way for Ducklings,” government biologists gently captured the mother duck and her yellow-and-black ducklings and put them in cages for the short ride to their new home.
Once at the park, the ducks were placed in a holding pen to get their bearings. But in only a few seconds, the mother mallard had found an opening and was headed to the nearby creek. Her ducklings scurried behind in a single line.
Duck No. 11 had a little trouble at first, stumbling and landing on its back, its webbed feet fighting the air. It quickly righted itself, only to trip again and tumble down the muddy river bank before landing with a plop in the water.
From there, all 11 ducklings quickly formed a line paddling after their mother and set out to explore their new surroundings.
While they had hatched in the rain, their first journey in their new home took place under a bright sky.
“Ducks are born knowing how to navigate in water,” said Laura Illige, chief park ranger at Rock Creek. “We have a healthy duck population here and we are happy to take the new additions under our wings.”
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