The University of Maine at Presque Isle is known as the Home of the Owls, but right now it’s playing host to a mother duck waiting for her nestful of eggs to hatch.
Of all the places the mallard hen could have selected for her nesting spot, she chose the flower box in front of the University’s Center for Innovative Learning [CIL]. University Library staffer Michelle Greene discovered the duck and her nest on May 1, when faculty, staff, and students were celebrating “UMPI Day” by cleaning up around campus.
“A few days before the campus clean-up, a couple staff members and I noticed the duck in the flower bed, but did not realize why until I discovered her nest on UMPI Day,” Greene said. “When I was cleaning out the flower bed, I found three eggs in her nest and thought for sure she would abandon it, but she came back.”
Officials decided the best course of action would be to leave the duck and her nest exactly where they were and to ensure they were disturbed as little as possible so she could hatch her eggs. Vanessa Pearson, Director of Student Success, oversees the CIL and put out several signs around the duck so people would know the mallard was there and to keep their distance.
“We’ve seen a lot of traffic at the CIL as people come inside and watch the duck through the big front windows, which are tinted and make it easy for people to watch her, though she can’t see them,” Pearson said. “Passersby have definitely shown interest in our new feathery resident, looking for her as they walk by and taking photos from a distance, but they’ve been very respectful of her space and the duck seems to be unruffled and undisturbed.”
Resident UMPI bird expert Dr. Jason Johnston, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology and an ornithologist, estimated that the eggs will hatch in late May. To prepare campus for this, officials have put several measures in place including the signage. Since the duck will be nesting during graduation, faculty and staff—who would normally cheer on graduates as they march past the CIL on their procession from the Campus Center to Wieden Hall—will move their “loud and proud crowd” to the entrance of Wieden Hall.
As well, officials have developed a plan for when the eggs hatch. Johnston said there are some very telltale signs when hatching is close—the mother duck, who typically spends as much as 23 hours a day on her nest, sits on the nest less, and the baby ducks start “pipping,” or using their little beaks to break the shell. If they hatch during the daytime, Pearson and Johnston will be at the ready to lead Operation Make Way for Duckling. Just like the characters in Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book from 1941, Pearson and Johnston will provide an escort for the mother duck and her babies: down the walkways, through campus, and across the road until they are safely on their way to nearby water.
Johnston said that it’s fairly typical for the birds to be on their way to the nearest body of water within hours of hatching. He also reassured that the flower box’s height of 5 feet may seem like a daunting height for the baby ducks, but their little frames will easily accommodate their jump in order to get to ground level.
Until those eggs hatch, the University has set up a “Duck Cam” to allow the mallard hen to nest undisturbed while giving the campus and community the opportunity to check in on what’s happening with her and her nest.
“We are delighted to host another type of bird on campus, at least for a short while, and we hope everyone will help us to make her feel at home and let her focus on her motherly duties,” UMPI President Linda Schott said. “We’d ask everyone to give her wide berth in the next few weeks, and especially when we welcome our many guests for graduation. She picked us, so we want to be impeccable hosts to her and her ducklings.”