ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Graduation night for preschool students at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Minn., Monday, May 24, had a special visitor.
One hen mallard sat still as a statue on a nest, seemingly oblivious to the energy of the kids running around the playground.
“I think she found that spot on those rainy two weeks,” Community Preschool assistant teacher Helen Maier said. “We could see them out the window, the (drake and hen) pair of them walking around the playground. We spent a lot of time just looking out the window at them.”
The teachers and young kids had no idea what the mallards were up to until the sun came back out and it was time to play outside again.
The hen mallard found the wood chips under the platform that leads to the slide to be a perfect spot to build a nest. As of Wednesday, she had been there for about 27 days. She is spending almost all of her hours now incubating her nine eggs that should hatch any day.
The incubation period for mallard eggs takes approximately 25-29 days. Many bird species are incredibly loyal to their nest once the egg-laying process is complete, hesitant to leave it even when faced with danger from natural predators in the wild. This specific hen mallard — called Bella by one class — is certainly showing strong motherly instincts.
“She just sits and watches us, and we watch her,” Maier said. “We avoided the slide for a while, but we figured out that we could go on it. We peek through the little hole and look at her. We’re watching and observing how she’s adding feathers to her nest.”
During incubation, waterfowl will take short recesses away from the nest, often to feed and preen. Females will cover the nest when they leave to provide insulation and keep the eggs hidden. The students are seeing this all first hand.
While the hen likely had no idea the atmosphere she was getting herself into, the playground has proven to be a safe spot away from the many traditional nest predators that threaten a successful hatch.
“We were excited to have her, but we weren’t sure what would happen to the duck or the eggs,” said Melisa Schueler, Community Preschool director and teacher. “We started doing some research. What should we do? Should we call the DNR? So we just thought, well, she’s not moving. The kids are listening very well and protecting her. So we got some caution tape, put it around and put some cones out. The kids love watching her and say ‘hi’ to her every day.”
Teachers have enjoyed using it as an exciting, unexpected learning opportunity.
“It’s been fun because we’ve been reading books about them in class,” Schueler said. “Books with pictures of ducks. What really happens? The incubation period and how long they stay with mommy and when they go off on their own.”
The hen seems to have adjusted to a little chaos just fine. The only thing left for the kids to see now is for the eggs to hatch, but the clock is ticking. The final day of classes is Friday, May 28.
“The kids are very curious and very protective,” Maier said. “They want to see the end result.”