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How To Save 11 Ducklings From Your 9th-Story Balcony — Hint: You'll Need A 'Ducket'


Look. I wouldn't know what to do if a duck started nesting in a planter on my ninth floor balcony, but Steve Stuttard, an avid bird lover and retired Royal Navy specialist, was just the man for the job.

STEVE STUTTARD: The important thing is to keep the bond with the chicks and the mother. You break that bond, and that could really just break up the family. I did not want that to happen.


In fact, Stuttard knew how to navigate this tricky operation because he had already done it. Last year, the same duck, Mrs. Mallard (ph), laid seven eggs in his fuchsia planter.

SHAPIRO: To get these ducklings safely to water, the retired Navy specialist used a homemade vertical jack stay. It's a pulley-like system used to transfer people from one ship to another when they're out at sea. In this case, it was a bucket - or a ducket (ph) - some carabiners and rope. And ducklings were the passengers, not people.

STUTTARD: I controlled the lowering from my end so that the bucket was not banging on the building or flying around. It was just very, very stable.

SHAPIRO: Well, this year, the bucket would need to transport 11 ducklings to the ground.

CHANG: And with a worldwide audience, his daughter, Emma Newman, tweeted about her dad's previous success and plans for Operation Mallard 2. And they've been stunned by the response.

EMMA NEWMAN: And I've been absolutely bombarded with messages. I literally can't keep up because it's literally thousands of people that are following the story. And so whenever I tweet about it, I get several hundred replies a second sometimes.

SHAPIRO: Stuttard and Mrs. Mallard's thousands of fans grew concerned that heavy wind and rain, plus the extra four eggs, might make things trickier this year. So things got tense after Newman heard from her dad yesterday morning that the eggs had slowly begun to hatch a day early.

NEWMAN: It was hours and hours and hours of waiting. And, of course, I was desperately worried about the ducklings because of the high winds. But there was also this added element of, oh, it feels like several thousand people all over the world are going to need to know what happens. And I really want to give them a happy ending. Everyone needs a happy ending now more than ever.

CHANG: Meanwhile, Stuttard filmed the progress as he waited and watched Mrs. Mallard shelter the ducklings from the wind under her wing.

STUTTARD: Conditions are improving, but still going to be difficult to get the babies down safely. So hopefully the conditions will improve as the day goes on. I really do believe that's why she's not moved them already just because of the conditions. It's quite cold here. And it's very, very windy. And welcome to the world, little ones.

SHAPIRO: Eventually, around 6:00 p.m., Mrs. Mallard called the chicks down from the nest, and Stuttard got to work.

STUTTARD: I walked onto the balcony. She was a bit upset. She hissed at me. I just picked her up and threw her off the balcony. And she flew off quacking away. And then she went straight to the base of the building, as she did last year. I picked up all the ducklings one by one. I counted them about three times. There were definitely 11. And then the lowering of the bucket took place. And literally, within two, three minutes from when I walked on the balcony, she was swimming away with her family.

CHANG: With two successful operations under his belt, there's a chance Stuttard will see Mrs. Mallard again next spring. Newman already has suggestions for what to call Operation Mallard 3. Her favorites - The Quackening or We're Going To Need A Bigger Bucket. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Elena Burnett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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