ST. CHARLES – As a rain-snow mixture fell Friday morning, St. Charles police officer Lisa Ferguson stood near a sewer grate, trying to reassure a duck whose ducklings had fallen through the gaps.
"I know, momma, we'll get 'em," Ferguson said.
The 10 ducklings huddled together in the sewer, peeping, as their mother fretted and paced in a parking lot and grassy area near the Blue Goose Market. Employees of the downtown St. Charles grocery store had contacted the police upon the discovery.
"Our employees find everything," co-owner J.P. Pearson said.
Although the ducklings were in arm's reach of rescue, Pearson couldn't save them because he needed the city to remove the grate.
Calls about trapped ducklings are not uncommon, Ferguson said, noting it happens a lot. She recalled other rescues she has participated in, including one that ended with releasing animals in a pond near Meijer on Randall Road.
Blue Goose employees helped Ferguson gather supplies necessary for the rescue, including a box to contain the creatures.
Public works personnel arrived with a crowbar and quickly uncovered the sewer, taking care to make as little noise as possible. Ferguson wasted no time laying a blanket on the wet parking lot. Lying on her stomach, she reached into the hole for the ducklings.
Within minutes, the 10 ducklings huddled together in the container.
But their mother – who had stayed within sight of the sewer throughout the wait for public works – was nowhere to be seen. Other ducks arrived at the scene, including a female, but it was unclear whether it was the ducklings' mother. As a test, Ferguson let one of the ducklings loose, and when the two came together, a second duckling was released.
"I say we walk the whole box down to the river so they don't get run over," Ferguson said.
The presumed momma duck followed community service officer Ryan Beeter – who carried the ducklings – down Indiana Street toward the Fox River but flew away before reaching the bank.
Beeter released the ducklings under a deck near the riverfront, where he and others involved in the rescue hoped the animals would be safe.
Pam Otto, manager of nature programs and interpretive services for the St. Charles Parks District, said it is difficult to know whether the ducklings will reunite with their mother. The distance between the sewer and the riverfront could make it difficult, she said, but it is possible the mother was watching the rescue.
"I know she'll be looking for them, and they'll be looking for her," Otto said.
She said the ducklings' peeping can only help.
"That sound they make is very important to the parent to find the young," Otto said.
While baby ducks need their parents for some protection and to learn how to be a duck, Otto said they aren't as helpless as other species are after hatching, such as robins.
"I think it's harder on us than it is on them," Otto said. "We always look at baby animals as being helpless. … Generally the parents and the young know exactly what to do, even though we think they have insurmountable odds."