Fear and tears as group escorts lucky ducks on perilous 3km waddle across city, via KFC

Fear and tears as group escorts lucky ducks on perilous 3km waddle across city, via KFC

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A Thornbury man says he veered between fear and joy watching a family of ducks dice with death on an epic three-kilometre trek across Melbourne’s inner-north.

Eli Landes feared the worst and hoped for the best as a wood duck and her ping pong ball-sized chicks made a beeline for Merri Creek on Sunday evening.

Duck support team (from left) Ruby Rafalowicz, Wildlife Victoria CEO Lisa Palma and Eli Landes.Credit: Justin McManus

Starting on a street in Thornbury, where the mother duck had just been reunited with her previously lost ducklings, Landes and two others decided to protect the birds as they traversed two major roads, train tracks, two tram lines and an off-lead dog park.

The rescuers were alarmed when the ducks walked under stopped cars in the Thornbury KFC drive-through. But the ducks emerged unharmed – and uncooked – from the fast food joint.

Landes said it was an emotional journey.

“I was weeping at lot. You would go from being terrified to relieved as they kept going from one obstacle to another,” he said.

The duck and ducklings that waddled through Thornbury.

“My heart was definitely in my mouth the whole time.”

One of the other shepherds, Wildlife Victoria chief executive Lisa Palma, said ducks and ducklings were a common sight around the city in spring and urged people to watch out.

This inner-north journey lasted more than two hours.

The rescuers – Palma, Landes and his girlfriend Ruby Rafalowicz – even picked up the ducks after they walked onto railway tracks, and then fought off swooping magpies.

Headed for danger: The duck family make their way along a Thornbury street.

When the ducks waddled across busy High Street and even-busier St Georges Road, the shepherds frantically tried to stop often-indifferent motorists.

“People weren’t stopping. I think they thought we were do-gooders, so they were blitzing past,” Landes said.

Another hairy moment came when the ducks approached Mayer Park, an off-lead dog park. The “bodyguards” had to beg some owners to put their dogs on leashes.

Unfazed, “the mother duck walked right through the centre of the park”, Palma said.

The final obstacles were a grate with gaps big enough for the ducklings to fall into and a chain-link fence that separates Mayer Park from Northcote golf course. The ducklings were herded through a hole in the fence and the mother flew over it. By this time, it was almost dark, and the human faction of the group watched happily as the ducks headed for Merri Creek.

Landes said there was relief and a sense of closure.

“Before that point, they’d been walking among traffic, kids, dogs and cats and magpies. And to see them walk into an open field where there was nothing else, it was really beautiful.”

On Saturday morning, Landes and Rafalowicz had discovered six ducklings huddled under a car near their home on Gooch Street in Thornbury.

Six of the ducklings spent Saturday night at a Wildlife Victoria shelter.Credit: Wildlife Victoria

The mother duck had been scared by dogs and flown away. The couple took the ducklings to a vet and then Palma drove the chicks to her shelter, where they spent a night under a heat lamp.

On Gooch Street, Landes noticed the mother duck pacing up Gooch Street and at one point perched on a chimney, quacking for her babies.

Palma brought the ducklings to the street about 6pm on Sunday. After sitting them down on the street in a crate, there was a swift reunion with mum, who flew over. Palma added a seventh duckling that had been found on a nearby street.

The eight birds then began their perilous tour of Thornbury.

Palma set off after the ducks, wanting to ensure their safety as they instinctively headed to the nearest waterway, and Landes and Rafalowicz decided to join her.

“We wanted to help and felt we had started to work as a team with Lisa,” Landes said.

Palma said she knew the ducks would travel to their chosen water source and that they were likely to encounter obstacles in the highly built-up area. If the ducks had been caught and driven to a random park, they may have headed back into the traffic.

She said she was “ecstatic” the ducks made it to safety. “The experience is up there as one of the most memorable in my 10-year-plus career in wildlife rescue,” Palma said. “I will never forget it.

“I am beyond grateful for Eli and Ruby for their assistance, because I simply could not have done it on my own.”

Palma urged members of the public to look out for ducks, to stop cars to let them cross roads, and to keep dogs on leads. Ducks with ducklings usually should not be disturbed, as the mother might fly away. But they often need help on their journey through urban areas.

Call the 24-hour Wildlife Victoria emergency line on (03) 8400 7300 for advice or help with a rescue.

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