Felicity arrived first.
The man who had been raising her since she was a duckling brought the one-year-old duck in to Anderson Humane’s Wildlife Center, seeking to surrender her.
Felicity was in good health, but had imprinted on people, meaning she had attached to and developed her sense of identity from humans. She was also severely habituated, or had none of the healthy fear response to humans she was born with. While imprinting and habituation might not sound so bad, they can be dangerous for wild animals and definitely limit the kind of life they’re able to lead.
Ashley Kendall, Anderson Humane’s Director of Wildlife, started looking for a good home for Felicity. They couldn’t release her back to the wild as she didn’t know how to find her own food, flee from predators, and interact with other ducks. According to Illinois laws, Felicity had to be placed in a facility licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ashley reached out to all 15 organizations in Illinois that are licensed to take in mallards, scanned Facebook pages for non-releasable wild animals, and connected with other wildlife groups all in an effort to find a new home for Felicity. “It’s not easy to find homes for mallards,” Ashley said. “They’re pretty common, so it’s easy for facilities to say no.” During this search process, Ferdinand, another adult duck, arrived.
A Crystal Lake police officer brought Ferdinand to our wildlife center, assuming he was injured when he walked right up to her and didn’t behave like most ducks do. It was immediately clear to the wildlife team that Ferdinand was in good health, but was both imprinted and habituated, like Felicity. Clearly he’d been raised by people as well.
Now the team had two mallards to find homes for.
As Ashley continued the search, Felicity and Ferdinand’s personalities came to light. “The staff fell in love with Felicity,” Ashley said. “She made a noise that sounds like laughter. People would often ask us who was laughing.”
The staff soon suspected that someone with dark hair had raised Ferdinand. “He was the sweetest little boy with those who had long, dark hair,” Ashley said. For Ashley, a blonde, it was a different story. “He would attack my feet and hands,” she said with a laugh.
As the wildlife team continued to care for the mallards, Ashley finally found them a possible home. Cosley Zoo in Wheaton was looking for some ambassador animals to participate in their educational programs. When the Cosley Zoo staff member came to meet the ducks, “Ferdinand made them fall in love,” Ashley said. “He sat in the woman’s lap and basically communicated ‘You want to adopt me.’” Yes, she has long, dark hair.
Felicity and Ferdinand were accepted to Cosley Zoo. After the required vet checks, paperwork with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a quarantine (so the ducks didn’t bring any germs to their new avian community), the pair were transferred to their new home.
“Even though they got their forever home, it’s not what they were meant for,” Ashley said. “They won’t get to migrate, mate, and fly free. They don’t have their freedom.” Still, the wildlife team is very happy with the outcome. “If we hadn’t found a placement, we would have had to euthanize them, which we did not want to do,” Ashley said.
They still miss Felicity’s “laugh.” And the little mallard charmer Ferdinand is missed by those with long, dark hair.