The ducks were gone.
Just like that, the mallards, including two mamas and their broods, disappeared from their urban habitat at The Pearl at Spring Creek, a sprawling 320-unit apartment complex on Gibson SE between the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Kirtland Air Force Base.
And if you’re thinking that’s an odd place for duck digs, you don’t know about The Pearl. I can’t speak for the apartments, the maintenance or the neighborhood, but within The Pearl property is a gem of a nature-center courtyard, replete with ponderosa pines that tower over the four-story complex, mounds of ivy, several small man-made ponds filled with koi and turtles and ducks – when they don’t disappear.
Resident Sloane Atkinson said ducks are always around, especially in the spring when ducklings hatch. As many as 60 ducks winter at The Pearl.
“I feed them every day, and then suddenly they’re not here and no one knows a thing,” she said. “Or they tell you conflicting stories.”
Atkinson said about five ducks and 10 to 12 ducklings that were too young to fly disappeared around Memorial Day.
She suspects foul play.
Rumors flew. State officials had taken away the ducks for population control. City officials took them for their safety because children were abusing the birds.
But officials at Albuquerque Animal Welfare said they had nothing to do with the AWOL waterfowl. Ditto the state Game and Fish Department.
Pearl property manager Beatrice Vargas said she’s not aware of any duck abductions. No foul play, just plain fowl behavior.
“They come and they go,” she said. “They always do.”
Meanwhile, five miles across town at the Citadel Apartments, near University and Indian School NE, residents were surprised a day after Memorial Day to find a mama duck and six newly hatched ducklings floating about in the swimming pool.
Manager Gabriel Salas said he contacted city Animal Welfare and was told it didn’t handle such matters – or such mallards. He called state Game and Fish, but no one returned his call.
Hours later, all but the mother duck were gone.
“Someone must have taken them,” he said. “But we don’t know who.”
Which leads to our third duck tale, this one involving five downy ducklings dropped off Friday at the Bernalillo County Animal Care and Resource Center.
Salas saw a photo of the ducklings on the center’s Facebook page and thought surely they came from his pool.
Or perhaps they were among the missing Pearl ducks.
Well, probably not.
The ducklings were removed from a private residence near Tingley Beach, 4 to 6 miles west of either location. Larry Gallegos, Bernalillo County communication services specialist, said the ducklings may have wandered away from Tingley, a haven for city ducks, and were now motherless, which is why the county stepped in.
The ducklings are now in the care of Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico, a volunteer group that provides medical and rehabilitation care for orphaned and injured wildlife. They will remain with the group until they are old enough to fly on their own – 5 to 8 weeks – and then relocated.
Ginnie Silva, who has worked with creatures great and small and feathered for 40 years, said she isn’t surprised to hear about all the comings and goings of all these ducks and ducklings.
Mating season is generally over, so male ducks have broken up with their mates. Ducklings are growing up and will soon be old enough to leave Mama behind.
“They grow exponentially,” Silva said.
If nature hasn’t taken its course among the ducks at The Pearl, predators may have, she said.
“There’s no way to know for sure, but lots of ducklings are preyed upon by domestic cats or other predators,” she said. “People can be predators, too.”
Nicholas Pederson, environmental health scientist with Albuquerque’s urban biology division, said ducks are also transient.
“Mallards will move their brood often between water sources and can move several miles,” he said. “It’s not unusual to have mallards at most permanent water sources in Albuquerque, and they will utilize temporary holding ponds and retention basins around town.”
The Pearl, he said, is near some parking lot retention basins. Perhaps these ducks were simply commuting.
None of which completely assures Atkinson of the missing mallards’ safety – not even when the ducklings and their mothers returned to The Pearl this week.
“Unless Roswell beamed them up for a couple of weeks, I don’t know where they were,” she said. “Nobody took the pigeons, I notice.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.