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Roof rescue: Ducklings go from stuck at the library to swimming in the pool

Ducklings leap into the Capitol Reflecting Pool on Monday, among four broods spotted there so far this season.
Ducklings leap into the Capitol Reflecting Pool on Monday, among four broods spotted there so far this season. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s springtime in Washington, which can mean only one thing: The ducklings are coming, and so are the duckling rescues.

They may strut around like they own the place, but baby ducks can have trouble in the city. They fall into grates. They get stranded in fountains. And if their mother happens to nest on top of a tall building, lured by the promise of greenery or other amenities, it’s hard for them to get down.

A scene like that played out Monday on Capitol Hill, just as senators were returning en masse for the first time in weeks. A duck had laid her eggs on the roof of the Library of Congress’ Madison Building, and now the family was stuck, since ducklings can’t fly or jump down from a perch that high. 

What they can do is run pretty fast. “They can bounce around, jump around, run around. They can hide,” said Lauren Crossed of the Humane Rescue Alliance, which coordinated a rescue mission. First, senior animal control officer Elesha Young had to find the babies. Next, she put them in a cat carrier (with netting for extra security) and brought them down to the street. 

The mom flew away, according to Crossed, but rejoined the group as they headed a few blocks west to the obvious destination: the Capitol Reflecting Pool, where six acres of water throw back a peaceful reflection of the rotunda, disturbed only by tourists and all kinds of urban wildlife.

Their arrival was more or less on schedule. This is the time of year that broods usually start to show up at the pool, and as of Monday morning, three were there already. Two came from the nearby Botanic Garden, rescued over the weekend. Another group came on its own, waddling up Constitution Avenue, according to April Linton of City Wildlife, a nonprofit that keeps an eye on the pool through its Duck Watch program.

In a typical year, volunteers will count about 20 broods at this location over the course of the season, tracking their comings and goings with the help of a spreadsheet. So far that work has continued in the pandemic, and Linton said she’s still encouraging members of the public to enjoy some duckling-watching too, as long as they keep their distance, both from each other and from the broods. 

A dog stands by one of the duck ramps at the Capitol Reflecting Pool on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

“If you see a mother duck and her ducklings on the berm of the pool, maybe they’re up there sunning, stay back,” Linton said. Don’t try to shoo them into the water. Ducklings “aren’t waterproof,” as she puts it, which means they need frequent breaks on land. That said, if you see an adventurous duckling wandering around by itself, you “should feel free to escort the duckling to the ramp,” Linton said.

The ramps she’s referring to were first installed in 2017 by the Architect of the Capitol, with input from her group. Designed to help ducklings over the raised edge of the reflecting pool, they caused a minor uproar at the time. Republican Rep. Mark Walker slammed them as a symbol of government waste, while others wondered how anyone could hate a duckling ramp.

This year the ramps went up during the second week of April. Expect to see ducklings through August, cruising around the pool in various stages of ducklinghood, Linton said.

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