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Expressway: My feathered friends visit every spring

Mallard chicks swim in the pool of the

Mallard chicks swim in the pool of the Cohen family of Setauket on May 17. Photo Credit: Brian Andrew Cohen

My favorite part of living in Setauket, a few miles south of Long Island Sound, is how much of nature still survives here despite humanity's attempts to manipulate it.

We've seen fox, deer, rabbits and so many types of birds -- cardinals, robins, sparrows, geese, woodpeckers and more -- that it sounds like a symphony beginning around 4 a.m. every day.

But no other animals make me smile as much as two mallards that, in each of the past five springs, seem to have made our backyard and the woods behind it their nesting spot.

Each winter, a puddle forms on the cover of our in-ground pool. It fills with leaves, bugs, frogs and a couple of snakes. At the end of April, the ducks suddenly appear overhead, then dive into the puddle. They swim, eat some of the pool's delicacies and sun themselves. After a few hours, they fly off together, but don't go far.

Ornithologists say mallards are generally monogamous, though "paired males" sometimes pursue other females. I believe these two ducks are the same couple that have flown in year after year. I have not banded them, but they look exactly the same -- the beautiful male, with his green face and neck, and the boring-colored brown female. And their actions and responses to me are always the same.

From the woods, the ducks always waddle their plump little bodies under our pool fence. My two greyhounds give them frozen, curious stares.

The mallards trust me. After a few weeks, the birds climb the steps of my deck and quack loudly at my door, pecking at it if I don't immediately respond.

My husband calls out, "Hon, your visitors are at the back door!"

I slowly open the door, give them a bit of bread and talk to them as they gurgle within inches of me. Then they seem to tire of my ridiculous quacks and waddle away in conversation between themselves. They jump back into the water, swim for a while and return to the woods.

Spring is their mating season and they seem to nest in the woods.

This year, for the first time, the mama brought her babies to the pool one day in mid-May. She seemed to give them a swimming lesson. The six brownish-gray chicks were tiny and fuzzy.

Perhaps because my husband, son and I were watching from the other side of the fence, about 6 feet away, mama suddenly hopped out and nervously paced at the edge, a few inches from her chicks. The babies jumped and jumped to get out of the pool-cover water. After we carefully pulled the cover away, one duckling got out. Our son took a long-poled skimmer and scooped up one chick. He then netted the remaining four in one effort and gently placed them on the grass. Mother mallard guided her babies back to the woods.

If experience is a guide, the adult mallards will be gone any day now -- not to be seen until next April.

My family learns a lot from these incredibly sweet creatures. Our bad moods and bad days are whisked away by two ducks that are faithful, playful and trusting. It is amazing how nature can nurture a person.

Reader Karen Jillian Cohen lives in Setauket.

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