Little Nell

Hilda Stob Prose
Cobb Lake 1980

Little Nell was a wild Mallard duckling in the summer of 1980, one of a family of 12. She was the smallest and quickest of the family, and I thought the most intelligent. Their mother Molly permitted them to come to the feed in our yard each day so over the weeks we came to look foreword to their visits. Little Nell always stood closer to me than the others because she knew that I would often have an extra portion because the others would try to peck her out of the way.

One day the family came to feed and little Nell came pell-mell across the yard and stood at our feet looking up at us, and oh horrors. Little Nell had a big fish hook sticking through the top section of her beak coming out just in front of her eye, with a short length of nylon fish line and a small lead weight hanging down about two inches below her beak. She looked at us as if asking us to do something, and we felt sick looking at her. Would her mother attack us if we tried to catch Nell, and if we did catch her we had no tools to clip the hook to take it out. We stood helplessly by, while she quickly began to feed. Finally they all went away, with our prayers following them, “Oh God help Little Nell, I don’t know how to help her.” I couldn’t sleep that night thinking of Little Nell, and praying over and over, “Oh God help Little Nell.”

The next day the Mallard family did not come to feed and we thought that surely some thing had happened to the little duck so they all stayed away, perhaps trusting us no longer, because we did not help Little Nell.

Then lo and behold, there they came, all of them including Little Nell. And the hook was gone and she looked well and happy, but not quite as trusting as before.

They continued to come each day, but we noticed that gradually a swelling came near Nell’s eye. The swelling grew larger as the summer progressed. Soon the other ducks began to pick on her and finally they all deserted her and she came to feed alone. By this time the ducks in the area were all flying, but no Nell was seen.

Then one day a single duck came up the bank to ask for food. It was Nell, and the swelling was worse near her eye, and she looked ill, her feathers ragged looking. And she would go to our boat dock and stand on one leg with her head tucked under her wing and sleep for long periods of time. When she would hear other ducks in the area she would call to them, but they never stopped to visit with her. She looked sick and lonely and starving for she would hardly eat any of the food we put out for her.

Finally one morning she came up the bank looking a bit better and ate with more relish and was back again that evening and ate all the corn that she had rejected before.

It wasn’t long before she found a friend and the two of them swam in the lake and they would fly around over the lake and quack to each other. Nell was happy again. And we were happy again.

She has not been here for some weeks now, and though we still talk about Little Nell, we are happy and relieved that she is well enough to enjoy her natural life. Thank you God.