April Linton coordinates the Duck Watch program for City Wildlife. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Not everybody saw the duck. If you were poking at your phone, head down, buds in your ears, you didn’t see the duck.

If you were walking along with your eyes open and your ears empty, curious about what wonders the world might serve up on this glorious spring day, you saw the duck.

There, you stopped at 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, near the rack of red Capital Bikeshare bikes. You gazed down at the tree box where the duck was resting on what looked like a fluffy brown cloud amid the mulch and the pansies.

“Did she make that, or is that part of her?” a lady asked.

Both, actually. The female mallard had used her bill to pluck downy feathers from her body, then arranged them into a nest and laid her eggs in it.

A female mallard nests in a tree box near 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

About eight eggs, said Suncererae Hinnant , a library assistant at WilmerHale, the big law firm whose building was right there. She had stopped to look at the duck, who first nested here last spring and endeared herself to the lawyers and paralegals and other employees at WilmerHale.

More people stopped, attracted not by the duck but by the crowd of people looking at the duck.

“Once the hatchlings come out, she’ll be a celebrity for real,” said Charles “Captain” Carter, security supervisor for the WilmerHale building.

Captain Carter’s job is to guard the building, but he said he and his staff feel protective of the duck, too, and keep an eye on it. So do the attendants in the booth of the Penn Parking garage, who came out to check on the duck.

The duck sat on her nest. She opened her eyes occasionally, but mostly she kept them closed, oblivious to the humans gathered near her and those who walked past and cycled past and drove past. Someone had put out a little plastic container of water, but she didn’t seem interested.

Captain Carter said that what he does is mainly make sure people don’t mess with the duck. Ducks “do not need our help,” he said. “They’ve been doing it for thousands of years.”

Like, food. The duck can feed herself. Leaving food is likely to attract rats, who would enjoy nothing more than a tasty duckling.

“Humans are funny,” Captain Carter said, shaking his head. The strangest offering he saw left for the duck was a red velvet cupcake.

“What’s her name?” asked a kid who had stopped with his sister.

April Linton, coordinator of the Duck Watch, a group of volunteers who monitor the city’s urban ducks and try to keep them safe, said they just call her the WilmerHale Duck.

The duck didn’t have a name because she’s a wild animal who just happened to have chosen a not-very-wild place to make her nest. It’s not the worst spot she could have picked, April said. It’s set back far enough from the curb that drivers getting out of their cars shouldn’t step on her.

That would be easy to do if you weren’t paying attention. The duck’s dark feathers, edged in pale brown, allows her to blend in with the ground.

April said Duck Watch is currently monitoring five duck nests, with more on the way. They have a network of people who keep tabs on ducks outside their buildings.

“We try to connect with the smokers,” April said. “They’re going to be outside, so they’re good sources of information. Smokers and security guards.”

The last of these eggs was laid a little over a week ago. Duck eggs hatch in about 25 days, which means the ducklings will probably emerge sometime in early May. When that happens, the mother will usher her family to water, probably at the White House or Constitution Gardens, April said.

The duck looked like every other mallard, but April knew she was special. In January, during a warm spell, this duck had laid eggs here. She stayed on the nest in that big snowstorm we had, incubating them in the face of the blizzard. They hatched, but the ducklings perished.

A week later, D.C. Animal Care and Control got a call that a greasy duck was wandering near Pennsylvania Avenue, a victim, it later decided, of the Dominion Virginia Power oil spill at Roaches Run. They picked the duck up and took her to City Wildlife, who sent her to Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark, Del.

There, the duck was cleaned and cared for, and in early March, she was released Southeast Pennsylvania. She was also banded.

That’s how April knows that the WilmerHale duck is the oil spill duck, the snowstorm duck, the survivor duck, this duck. She has a band, too, a rarity among common mallards.

“She was released far away, and she came back to her same nest,” April said. “This is her spot.”

Someone said they should set up a webcam, but it was nice to just walk along and see the duck.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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