In a courtyard outside a Kirkwood classroom, 11 little ducklings waddle after their mother, dive in their plastic swimming pool and practice flapping their tiny wings.
The baby mallards are the temporary charges of sixth-grade teacher Matt Maniaci. He has helped take care of a succession of ducklings hatched each year in the courtyard outside his North Kirkwood Middle School (NKMS) classroom.
Mama Mallard--Maniaci’s students are still brainstorming names for the ducks--flew into the courtyard earlier this spring and built her nest under a yucca plant. She diligently kept her 11 eggs warm during the unusually cool weather until about two weeks ago when 11 little fuzzballs emerged.
Even though the ducklings have since doubled in size, the mother duck still protects them and keeps the brood warm in the early mornings by covering them with her wings.
“They’re all underneath her and you can’t see them,” said Maniaci, 52, of Webster Groves. “She keeps them all warm. She’s a great mom.”
A female mallard--Maniaci can’t be sure whether it’s the same one--has been visiting NKMS each spring for as many as 10 years. Maniaci inherited the caretaker role several years ago from a teacher who has since retired.
Each spring, students watch for the duck to return. Then they monitor her from the windows of Maniaci’s classroom, waiting for the ducklings’ coming-out party.
She usually hatches about a dozen babies. Not all survive, however. Even though they are in a relatively protected spot, some of the ducklings eventually disappear--perhaps snatched by a hawk known to frequent the neighborhood. No one has seen the hawk around this year, however.
“So far so good,” Maniaci said.
This year, Maniaci, who teaches communication arts, challenged all of the sixth-graders to name the mama duck and babies. One student came up with fairy tale names such as Cinderella and Prince Charming and another suggested duck-themed names like Quacky and Donald. Still another wanted to name the ducks after famous people, like Queen LaQuacker, Duck Norris and Quacky Chan. Teachers will choose a winner.
Maniaci said the students love watching the ducklings’ antics and get a kick out of them diving in their pool.
“The kids love it,” said Maniaci, who has taught in Kirkwood schools for 22 years, the last 13 at NKMS.
Last year, some of his students helped build a large house for the ducks to protect them from hawks and other predators. The ducks weren’t interested. But they do use the wading pools he and other staff members provide. Every day, Maniaci or one of the school custodians changes the water so that the ducklings’ swim lessons are in fresh water.
Maniaci also provides duck mash and cracked corn for food. This year, the PTO allotted $100 to help defray duck-related expenses.
Maniaci said the ducklings will reach full size over the summer and though the mother will encourage them to fly to the rooftop, they never do.
“She’ll jump up on the roof and quack quack at them but there’s not enough room,” he said.
So every year when the ducklings are full grown, he and another employee will round them up and deliver them to a farm in Cuba, MO, where they will live out their life on a pond. Then the following spring, the process will start all over again.