Toronto Wildlife Centre -

  • Why passion takes you further than perfection
  • Our darkest moments motivate our brightest contributions
  • How The Toronto Wildlife Centre saved the day

I’d never been to New York.

I’ve seen Sex and The City, watched many Woody Allen movies and was moved by a documentary about Bill Cunningham. I sped through the Bell Jar, adore the band Blondie and love looking at paintings by Basquiat. The more ideas, art and opportunities that came out of New York the more I took notice when any aspect of the big apple was mentioned in the media. I always tried to imagine what it was like. But what I knew for certain was that I too would love New York.

However, over the years I’ve learned that there’s no way to carve out your own city within the city unless you see it for yourself.

The day I finally got to go, I ran down to Toronto Island Airport at 6am with just an hour of sleep under my belt. Fortunately I caught the ferry just in time to board my 6:45 flight.

My partner was working in Brooklyn for a few days so I took the train from New Jersey to Penn Station, walked over the bridge towards Flatbush and arrived at the end of Coney Island Avenue just before 5PM.

We spent a day in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and our last two in Manhattan.

Little did we know that while we were staring out across the pond in Central Park, running Holden Caulfield’s question over in our heads:

You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?

– Holden Caulfield, The Catcher In The Rye

… Little did we know that a duck of our own was checking out our home, back in Toronto.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - Duck in a BoxFast forward to when we got home. I opened the roof to re-boot our morning routine: coffee and cats on the roof while I read stuff for work. To my surprise after about 5 minutes a duck squawked and skedaddled – leaving all of us confused.

What was a wild animal doing in our concrete jungle?

When it happened again the next day we figured there must be something more bringing her back. So we took a quick look in the area she emerged from and our suspicions were confirmed. In the corner of a plant pot were five mini miracles. The next day there were 6. The day after that, 7 …

This discovery wouldn’t have ruffled our feathers if our roof wasn’t on the fifth story; for this duck to pluck our roof out from all her other nesting options in the garden of the world, suggests that her habitat and human-tolerance boundaries had been broken. And so were our hearts.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - 5 Storeys

This duck, this city duck… our duck, was doing the best she could under the circumstances.

As we scrambled (there’s going to be a lot of that in this, ok?) to figure out what to do, we learned:

  • Mother ducks and dad ducks scope out the nesting area together
  • The mom visits the site for just 1 hour a day to lay 1 egg per day
  • After a few days if no predators have eaten the eggs she covers them in down and continues
  • When the family headcount is finalized she settles and incubation begins (so they all hatch at the same time)
  • For 28 days she sits day and night, keeping everyone warm, except for 1 hour in which she leaves to eat, drink and be merry
  • Then all the babies hatch and one duck suddenly becomes a dozen or so, depending on the number of eggs
  • The most dangerous hours of a duck’s life are during the journey from the nest to the nearest body of water

Nature and nurture create opportunity

During the lead-up to the big event; the birth of baby ducks, my partner Alex told me that this experience got him thinking about the cycle of life and how it can bring you hope when you feel despair.

He said that if he was not long for this world, it would be this memory – the force of nature repeating itself – that would comfort him; knowing these new beginnings were happening in bushes, trees and even on roof tops – the passing of the flame from one to the next in the circle of life, would be enough.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - DucklingsAlex said that with all this going on, he would be proud to have been part of it. Felt lucky to be one of the living things who got to spend time on this planet – waddled through this world. And while he would be sad for himself, the idea that all these happy starts were popping up – even in the most unlikely of places – would help him put everything in perspective and feel peace.

Alex’s point isn’t that all the babies being born are cute or fluffy or innocent. What gave him the idea of hope was that tiny beings everywhere have the balance of nature and nurture in the journey ahead of them. And all these experiences can inspire something original that makes the world better. Struggle, barriers and setbacks force us into uncomfortable territory and help us become more than we are; Terry Fox, Van Gogh and Freddie Mercury wouldn’t be who they were without love and adversity.

As I went through the 16 months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy, I was rudely awakened by the feelings that surrounded and coursed through the cancer clinic. There were faces with the brave smiles, and the ones who had given up smiling. There were feelings of hopeful denial, and the feelings of despair… I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine… I was determined to take myself to the limit for this cause.

– Terry Fox

Our darkest moments inspire our brightest contributions

Life’s not about being perfect or having the perfect life. It’s about being passionate. It’s about taking what life throws you, learning from it and making it better.

That’s why we called the Toronto Wildlife Centre. We were out of our depth and needed help.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre asked us to phone them when the first duckling hatched so they could get ready for the pick up – which would happen approximately 10 hours later. That’s how long it usually takes for everybody to hatch. The TWC told us we’d know they were all ready-to-roll when the mother duck got out of her nest and started walking about.

Soon our calendar was filled with numbers, counting down the days until our duck would need to be rescued. We still couldn’t visualize it; we weren’t sure what it would look like.

28 days is a long time in anyone’s life so we had to get on with it.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - Two CatsEach morning we went up to our rooftop and our cats were very good (and strictly supervised on the other half of the roof). They knew someone was there but respected her space.

We took the tarp off our patio furniture, planted flowers, watered plants, ate lunch, read books and barbecued dinner (veggie burgers) one meter away, long after midnight. Oliver and Crazy Face (our cats) basked in the sun from flower boxes, chased butterflies and chewed grass, all while our duck kept the earth on it’s axis.

Everybody just did what they regularly did on the roof.

The first day we carried on as usual she stuck her head out of the box she’d claimed. Her brave reveal seemed to say, “I’m here, if that’s an issue let me know now. The sooner the better!” Some serious stuff was about to happen and she knew a stitch in time would save nine.

Within 5 minutes of us acknowledging but not interfering, her long neck relaxed and lay resting on the planter rim under an evergreen. After that she never asserted herself again.

Preparing the roof for the ducklings

As the days drew deeper into the double digits we began to get the roof ready.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - Dock TapeWe plugged holes, made a cardboard shelter box, put plants closer to her nest (for baby food), padded the foot-long fall the ducklings would take to make it out of the planter, filled a shallow dish with water and duck-taped wood to our fence as a temporary fix to stop the babies from scattering along the row of townhouses. We got busy getting attached to our duck without realizing it.

It was important we were organized and did everything we could. We wanted to make sure (wait for it!) we had all our ducks in a row.

At some points we had to get quite close to baby-proof her plot and just saw a beautiful brown eye staring out at us between a camouflaged-streak of tiny feathers.

Over the 28 day period there was a feeling that filled our house. Especially as the evenings took over. The idea that something so wild and free felt safe sitting cooped up under the skyline – so sure of what she needed to do, brought us a sort of reassurance that there’s still lots of good in the world. And that’s what our duck came to symbolize as she sat vigilant by her young – through rain, sun, hail and bright city lights at night.

Having her high above us for 23 hours each day, made the city seem more alive than ever and our little place within it, protected.

Near the end of her stay with us we realized that she left her nest around 8 at night and arrived home by 9. That was her one hour out.

At first we used this time to finish getting stuff done that was near her nest, like the tap we had to turn in order to water the plants. But it quickly transformed into cocktail hour!

When we discovered that she’d land and pop back into her box while we were shuffling about, we decided to stay on the other side of the deck with a drink so we could keep well out of her way.

It was amazing to see her approach from over the roof tops, followed by a flock of friends, before swooping down and then jumping back to her soon-to-be babies.

How did they know where and when to meet up?

Without any modern communication she was better organized and prompt than we’ve ever been. Clearly she was able to coordinate it all from headquarters: the plant box off Portland Street.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre is an important resource

As the days crept closer I started having nightmares about the ducklings and everything that could go wrong. She picked our roof and we wanted to make sure we held up our end of the bargain by doing everything we could.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - DucklingThen like clockwork, on the 28th day there were two heads in the box instead of one. We contacted the Toronto Wildlife Centre and left a message to keep them in the loop.

Our first call to the Toronto Wildlife Centre was late on Saturday Night. Then we set our alarms to wake up with the sun.

After days of rain we went up to the roof to find a bright and beautiful morning.

… and this is what happened:

This video shows how the ducklings were saved by The Toronto Wildlife Centre

I’d been afraid the ducklings would all do their own thing. I thought they would scatter across the roof and hide in plants and we might miss a few. But after everybody hatched all the ducks stuck together in a neat little row and followed their mom around wherever she went – just like in the movies!

The Toronto Wildlife Centre to the rescue

So, the most dangerous hours of a duck’s life are during the journey to the nearest body of water and our duck was chauffeured! Who would have guessed a duckling would go for a car ride before a proper swim?

The best part was that Andrew and Jeannie – passionate members of the Toronto Wildlife Centre Team, had seen the whole ordeal thousands of times. In yet, gauging by their excitement you’d never know.

Andrew said that the egg becoming a duck with it’s mother’s warmth was magical and we were all relieved when she and her team of toddlers swam away safely. After a duck-ade of service they saw the whole experience as awe-inspiring as we did.

Often we go looking for things in life but the best things happen naturally when you’re busy being true to yourself.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - Ontario PlaceHere’s what we learned from this whole experience that hasn’t already been said:

  • Trust your instinct
  • Advocate for living things that don’t have a voice (in your country and beyond)
  • We can get through tough experiences if we stick together
  • If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck
  • Communication is key, whether you’re a duck dialing up your one hour out or a human coordinating a rescue
  • Share what you’re going through – it breaks down barriers, brings people together and helps everybody better understand a world outside their own
  • Get to know your community and all the cool organizations and causes in it – knowing everything the Toronto Wildlife Centre does makes us see more layers in our city
  • We’re all connected – the birds, the bees, the yous and mes

And finally, we learned: Get the experts in! In our case it was The Toronto Wildlife Centre.

As Einstein said:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Get in the experts

So when you need to put a fire out don’t call your web designer or worse, try to do it yourself!

Toronto Wildlife Centre - Real Life Heroes

Andrew Wight and Jeannie from the Toronto wildlife Centre
Real Life Heroes

When you have a duck on the roof get in touch with the Toronto Wildlife Centre or the Wildlife centre closest to you.

And when you want to lose weight make sure you reach out to somebody who knows what they’re doing.

Get in the experts!

That’s what we learned from our duck.

Andrew said that often when a duck has a successful experience you get what he called a repeat offender.

As we still see the odd feather float through the air and across the roof from our empty nest, we make a wish that she might come back next year because now we know we can make it safe under her city-duck circumstances.

Toronto Wildlife Centre - Repeat OffendersWe’ll just have to wait, hope we get lucky and see.

Please share this story with all your animal-loving friends to help create awareness around the Toronto Wildlife Centre or the wildlife centre near you.



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