National Geographic's Mallard Ducks





Mallard Duck and Duckling

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

Since 2004, mallard ducks have been coming to the courtyard of the National Geographic Society headquarters, an urban oasis in downtown Washington, D.C. In spring 2011, a female mallard and her ten newborn ducklings made their home here.





Ducklings Preening

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

The ducklings stayed close together and were constantly supervised by their mother. National Geographic staff posted signs asking visitors not to feed the birds and to stay at least ten feet from the ducklings to prevent the mother from abandoning her brood.





Ducklings

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

The path to water was sometimes a slippery slope for the ducklings. The family enjoyed free reign of National Geographic’s courtyard, setting out for frequent swims in the fountain and resting in shady, landscaped areas that were blocked off for their safety.





Duck Family Outing

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

Ducklings follow the lead of their mother, making their way for a dip in the fountain.




Ducks in a Row

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

Ducklings enjoy a swim in the fountain with their mother, who bears all the responsibility for raising them. The father “does stay close by,” Curry said. Two males were spotted visiting the courtyard, but only one appeared to be mature enough to be the ducklings’ father.





Ducks to Water

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

Ducklings take a break on a ramp built especially for their easy access to and from the water. “Our Engineering department found the ducks in the water and they couldn’t get out, so they found this piece of stainless steel to make a ramp for them,” Curry said.





Mallard Duck and Ducklings

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

With the help of their mother, two ducklings make their way up the ramp after a swim.





Mallard Ducklings

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

Mated mallard pairs migrate to and breed in the northern parts of their range and build nests on the ground or in a protected cavity. Females normally lay about a dozen eggs, and the incubation period lasts just under a month.





Ducks on a Ramp

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

Two ducklings march into the undergrowth after a swim in the fountain. Makeshift ramps sized for duckling use and placed around the courtyard eased the family’s passage along regular routes.





Ducklings Eating

Photograph by Anthony Peritore

Despite a relatively sheltered city upbringing, six of the ducklings were lost, felled by predators, the elements, and other dangers. According to experts, such losses are normal for a brood of this size.

Here, the four remaining ducklings feed from a tray set out in the courtyard. After the mother made an attempt to take her ducklings across a busy intersection one evening, staff members discovered that she had been fed at her nearby nesting site and was trying to return there. In order to keep the ducks from heading into the street, Curry began putting out food for them. City Wild Life, one of the organizations advising the Society on duck care, provided special food that is served in a shallow tray of water, a method that teaches the ducklings how to eat as they would in a pond.

After a particularly busy late April weekend at National Geographic headquarters, the mother duck relocated her four remaining ducklings several blocks away to Lafayette Square, a national park near the White House, where they appear to be adapting quite well.