A Model of Courageous Parenting: Ducks, Dogs, and a Walk on the Beach at Sunset

The night before solstice, I walked my dogs, Ruby and Elsie, down to the shore just before sunset. A seal was basking in the last rays of the day on a rock about 100 feet off the shore. A loon cried. Sea gulls soared above us, calling. The dogs and I walked along the shore past the few houses to the long stretch of undeveloped coast, when suddenly a Mallard sprung out in front of us, walk-limping, flapping what appeared to be useless wings, apparently struggling and in great distress. I quickly got Ruby and Elsie on lead so that they couldn’t harm her, as I pondered what to do. My husband is a veterinarian, so I knew I could get the duck medical care quickly if I could catch her. But within moments, I realized what was really going on. From where the duck had first emerged, I heard little chirps.

I’ve heard of mother birds pretending to be injured and flapping around on the ground to draw predators away from their young, but I don’t recall ever seeing this before. And with such drama and commitment, too. This Mallard flapped and limped and struggled for a nearly a quarter of a mile, staying just ahead of us as we dutifully followed (well, that’s the direction we were headed anyway). When finally she felt we were far enough away, she flew to the ocean, keeping an eye on us on the whole time.

What a clever, brave, and good mom she was. She fooled the dogs, who never thought to investigate those duckling chirps. Why do so many of us humans doubt that other species can love their young as we do; can use intrigue and manipulation like the best of us; can feel and love and suffer?

For a humane world for all beings,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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