Over the past two decades, I have made hundreds of visits to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, in Central Missouri, and have never failed to be inspired by its beautiful landscape and superb diversity of wildlife. But nature offers both beauty and tragedy and, this morning, I was dismayed to observe a stranded duckling, swimming along the marshy edge of a floodplain pool.
The young wood duck may have prematurely left its nest box; however, he appeared well-developed and his siblings would surely have followed. Perhaps he became separated from his mother and her brood but wood duck moms are very attentive. This leaves the possibility that his mother was killed and that he is the sole survivor of her brood, the others picked off by water snakes, snapping turtles, great blue herons, mink, coyotes or bald eagles.
Few animals are as cute as a duckling and many humans would be inclined to rescue this youngster. Naturalists, however, understand that it is best to minimize our impact on nature and that her cycle of life includes the death of young creatures. A stranded duckling, sure to die without the guidance of his mother, is vital to this fabulous ecosystem, as important as the majestic eagles that survey its realm.