A mallard hen with nine hatchlings only hours old was run down about 10:30 yesterday morning on Pennsylvania Avenue east of 14th Street.
Miraculously, she was retrieved relatively unharmed (except for a wing that may be broken) from beneath a cab. One of the golf-ball-sized infant ducks was killed, but the others are in perfect condition, reported John Hoke, urban park program specialist for the National Capital Parks headquarters at Hains Point, a division of the National Park Service.
"I know it's a mouthful," he said.
Hoke, who is better known to the public as a friend of the turtle and the toad, having written books about them, is also into ducks and presides in an unobtrusive way over the mallards that nest every year at Hains Point.
But these were downtown ducks.
"It seems probable these particular ducks were hatched from a nest near 14th and Pennsylvania," he said. The mother, relying on millions of years of instinct, promptly led them the most direct route to water, which meant crossing the congested avenue.
"She got hung up under the cab but was not gravely hurt," he averred. "Through luck there were several uniformed maintenance men of the Park Service nearby. One of them crawled under the taxi and got her unhung. The little ducks were running all over the place. Traffic stopped, of course. One of the men held the mother duck in his hands over a cardboard box and the little ducks all ran into it. They put mother and babies together in a truck and took them out to the pool at Hains Point. If they start to leave, as they may in a day or so, they will be escorted to the quay by park people -- we never have any trouble walking them safely.
"Last year the same thing happened when a hen crossed Constitution Avenue with her brood. Joggers stopped and directed traffic, and all were saved. I believe we are getting more wild ducks downtown than we used to."
Hoke was asked whether he felt Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues should be closed to vehicular traffic during the duck-hatching season.
"You will not catch me saying that," he said after a considerable pause.