Lessons from a duckling diary


By Judith Costello

Conventional wisdom says, “Never interfere with hatching.” There is the often-used story about the man who tried to help a monarch butterfly out of the cocoon. As a result, the wings of the butterfly remained curled. It never flew. The story is used to remind us that all creatures go through trials in order to become all they were meant to be.

But sometimes the trial of life involves the decision to play the Good Samaritan. That’s the thought going through my mind as Brigit spent two full days glued to her tiny incubator. On Monday a tiny pyramid had appeared on a duckling egg. Hatching had begun. We knew that the process could take up to 24 hours. But after waiting past that time, I had a sense of foreboding.

Brigit slept intermittently on a sleeping bag within inches from the egg. Occasionally she heard a small peep. But, morning came and went. The day came and went. Then another night and still there wasn’t much change.

At 30 hours into hatching, the duckling cracked the top of the egg. Wet down feathers waved out at us. But the feathers looked like spider legs and the voice inside the egg grew weaker. Consulting hatching experts again, I read, “If it can’t get out on its own, there is something wrong with it and it will die.”


That’s hard news for a “mother.” Brigit had prayed for days over the egg. She coaxed it along for two full nights. Could it really be doomed? When the process was 42 hours long, I gave in to her pleas….Brigit should be the Good Samaritan. What else could we do?

Brigit took tweezers to the egg. At 45 hours after hatching began, the duckling was finally freed. But it was not a happy moment. The duckling’s neck seemed too long. One foot was shriveled. It couldn’t keep its head up and it twitched constantly. The poor thing looked like a deformed, slimy tarantula. Its bony wings and one good leg moved spastically.

We were mortified. I felt guilty. “See. The books are right,” I kept telling myself. “You are too impatient. It is arrogant to try to intervene in the natural order of things.”

We prayed hard. Others prayed too. It was just a duckling. But it was a life that Brigit had tried to help. For her sake, we hoped against hope that something would change.

The duckling was so busy twitching it didn’t even notice it was all alone. In the middle of the night I got up to check on it, but there was still no sign that it would recover.

Yet when morning dawned, crisp and clear, everything seemed renewed. Brigit cupped the duckling next to her face and the little thing used her ear like an echo chamber. It called out clear and strong in a voice that said, “I am fine. Look at me!” We decided to name her M&M for Milagro’s Miracle. (Milagro is the Spanish word for miracle.) 

Three days later Milagro takes the “elevator” up to nuzzle by Brigit’s face. When she’s on the floor she races to follow her “mom.” No one could tell from looking at this adorable fluff ball that she started out deformed and dysfunctional.

The lesson for us has been: The past is past, our problems won’t last. We do our best and God does the rest!

(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her Web site is www.thedailychristian.com.)

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