A frantic mother duck was reunited with her seven, clumsy ducklings Tuesday, thanks to the combined efforts of two Pennington County sheriff’s deputies, two county highway workers and a Rapid Valley bird lover.
Nancy Thompson’s morning walk took an unexpected detour when she spotted a mallard hen pacing in circles on a storm sewer grate along Sweetbriar Street.
Moving closer, Thompson heard a chorus of peeps coming from about 5 feet below the grate.
As the mallard hen’s displaced brood waddled back and forth under the street, “mama” tracked her family on top of the street, quacking assurances to her children.
“I felt so sorry for mama,” Thompson said. “I couldn’t do anything. She kept crossing the road and walking in circles.”
Fearing a car would hit the mother duck, Thompson rushed home to call for help.
It took a few calls to find someone willing to rescue the ducklings, but the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office rose to the occasion.
“It’s about doing the right thing,” said Lt. Corey Brubakken.
Deputy Chris Plawman was first on the scene. He was joined by a second deputy and two employees of the Pennington County Highway Department.
Thompson said she chuckled when she noticed the “Rescue Diver” sticker on the second deputy’s patrol vehicle.
With Thompson herding the anxious mother to keep her safe, the duckling rescue squad popped off sewer grates and opened a manhole to retrieve the tiny water fowl.
“They pulled them out of four different holes,” Thompson said. “They had to go down and get them.”
Relying on her ranching background, Thompson estimated that the ducklings had probably hatched either the previous day or that morning.
“They were tiny little guys,” she said. “As soon as ducks in the wild hatch, they head for water.”
Thompson said the nervous hen flew off once during the rescue operation, but returned in time to see the first of her brood reach the surface. The hen took an instant dislike to Deputy Plawman and tried several times to attack him, Thompson said.
With six ducklings recovered, Plawman and Thompson herded the little family across busy Covington Street to the nearby Hawthorn Irrigation Ditch.
“We even received a ‘thumbs-up’ salute from someone when Plawman stopped traffic,” Thompson said. “That was kind of cool.”
But as they returned to the rescue scene a tiny peep echoed from the storm drain – a seventh baby still wandered the storm sewer.
Fortunately, the little guy wandered under an open hole and a highway worker managed to retrieve him.