Hampton Elementary students herd ducklings and mother to safety

Thirteen ducklings and their cranky mother have made it to water safely, after approximately 250 elementary school students in Hampton, N.B., lined up and helped herd the waterfowl into the marshes behind the building.

This is the 3rd year a mother duck has nested inside the Hampton school’s inner courtyard

With the feathered family nesting in a courtyard with no access to water, Hampton Elementary School faculty needed a way to move the babies without harming them. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Thirteen ducklings and their cranky mother have made it to water safely after about 250 elementary school students in Hampton helped herd the waterfowl into the marshes behind the building.

This is the third year the mother duck decided to set up her nest inside the Hampton Elementary School's courtyard.

"In the first year we were not aware mother duck needed to get to water immediately after having her ducklings," principal Sarah Blanchard said. "It's very important."

Blanchard said the school's inner courtyard makes it possible for the mother to fly in and out to her brood — but the ducklings can't get to water. 

About 250 students helped guide the ducklings to safety. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Free as a bird

With the mallard continuing to nest inside the courtyard and away from predators, the staff at the southern New Brunswick school needed a way to move the babies without harming them.

Now, after consulting the Department of Energy and Resource Development, Blanchard and her team have it down to a science.

The day they first see ducklings running around the inner courtyard, the principal organizes students to sit in two rows, acting as a human funnel when the teachers nudge the ducklings with a net.

An elementary school in Hampton, New Brunswick gathered their students to create a safe path off school grounds for a mother duck and her ducklings. 0:29

The rows of children guide the ducklings in a line up a ramp, through a door, across a school hallway, down another ramp and toward the marsh.

"This is experiential learning at its finest," Blanchard said. "We know engagement is important to students and to be motivated to come to school.

"I think for a lot of these kids, wondering when mama was going to have her ducklings has been an important part of that. And also just building empathy; a mama has to take care of her ducklings."

Plan is no lame duck

Grade 5 student Bryson MacDonald said this year's operation went much smoother than in years past.

Last year, an agitated mother duck flew onto the roof of the school and started quacking loudly at the students.

"Our principal didn't almost get attacked by the momma duck [this year]," the 11-year-old said. "And the ducklings were much calmer."

Bryson MacDonald, 11, says he's pleased the ducklings were funnelled safely to the marsh. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

'An experience the children will remember'

For the principal, who has been at the school for the past four years, the ducks clearly mean a lot.

In the first year that the feathered family took up residence in the courtyard, Blanchard even ripped open a storm drain in a "Hulk moment" trying to save some ducklings that had fallen down.

"I climbed inside the sewer and had to lift these ducklings out," she said. "Sadly, some exhausted their energy reserves and didn't make it.

"However, we did get some of them released."

She calls the herding of the ducklings one of the highlights of her year.

"And for many of the students as well as the staff, to be able to nurture a family of ducklings … this is an experience the children will remember forever."

In the duck's first year nesting inside the courtyard, Principal Sarah Blanchard climbed into the sewer to try to save some ducklings that had fallen in. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)