The Duckling

I watched an SUV run over a duckling once. The SUV was about 2 car-lengths ahead of me. The situation struck me for more than 24-hours because I seemed to empathize for the mother duck and the duckling’s siblings, especially the last duckling.

            I was driving between Nehalem, OR and Manzanita, OR, coming around a corner when from the left shoulder of the road, a mother duck and approximately six to eight ducklings waddled up to cross to the other side. I caught sight of the feathery group approximately 3 car-lengths before the SUV driving in front of me. Unfortunately, the SUV wasn’t being as attentive as I was and failed to notice the duck family until the ducks were already halfway across the road. They swerved last-minute, but the back left tire of the SUV struck the second to last duckling.

            It happened quickly, as I was travelling at around 45 mph, but when the duckling got hit, the very last duckling in the line started to flail about, panicking and chirping urgently for its mother. It seemed so scared and anxious and unsure of what it should do. It didn’t take me long to decide I should pull over and check on them. The mother duck and the rest of the group sat in the bushes on the right shoulder chirping and quacking and calling to the last two ducklings they lost on the way over.

            I walked over to the two ducklings sitting in the middle of the lane I was driving in, which must have startled the last duckling into tapping into the location of the rest of its family because it went running into the bushes where they were located as soon as I was up close. As I had expected, the other duckling didn’t move. As I looked over the duckling to see if the hit was merciful, I saw it hit its head and side on the tire of the SUV. Its eye was dangling out of the socket and the torso was torn open. Though it looked brutal, I still believe the duckling died with a small touch of mercy because not much time had passed by this point and the duck had no signs of being alive or conscious and I hope my intuition is correct on this.

            “Is it gone?” a lady on her bicycle on the left shoulder of the road witnessed the duckling getting hit as well and had decided to stop as well. I informed her that it didn’t make it and proceeded to my car to grab the only thing I had in the car to dig with: a screwdriver. I ran back to the “scene of the accident” and dug a shallow grave in the dirt on the right shoulder of the road while the bicyclist watched my lane for oncoming traffic in my direction while I was taking care of the duck family. Then, I moved the duckling’s body out of the road and into the grave, tucking the earth, whose place the duckling now filled, over and around the duckling’s body right before the bicyclist informed me that traffic was coming my direction so I could move out of the road.

            The bicyclist continued her journey while I patted the soil down and picked up my screwdriver to continue my journey to work. The ducks were no longer panicking and I am pretty sure they had moved on by this point.

            My logic behind burying this duckling was that I was afraid the mother duck would come back to the duckling’s body if I left it in the open. If she did go back to it, she would be at risk of getting herself or another duckling hit, as well. I’ve heard of animals mourning their babies when they die and I hope I gave her a chance to keep going forward safely and without too much sorrow or confusion. I don’t know how the mother-offspring bond exists between ducks or how strong or deep or tedious it is or isn’t, but I went with my instincts.

            The last duck’s lost, frantic panic standing beside its sibling’s body that it just watched get pummeled by the SUV tire and the mother duck calling her babies to safety while the second to last duckling was lying in the road, mutilated, were the parts that haunted me from the whole event. What bothers me most, however, is that I saw the duck family on the left shoulder of the two-lane road enough in advance to have been able to come to a complete stop, safely, to allow the ducks to finish crossing. How did the SUV in front of me fail to do the same and then drive away without a worry about the family of living beings they just upturned?

            Hopefully, Karma will make her rounds; however, I’m grateful the bicyclist and I were there to try to play our part in the circle of life and death. The outcome I hope for the most is that I did what was necessary to make the situation easier on all involved.

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