Everything just 'ducky' for boater as mallard mama takes up residence

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photo</I><BR>Mike Rainford has given up the back end of his boat Liberty to his adopted duck family - at least for now.

ILWACO - Mike Rainford is quacking up. He'd like nothing more than to get his boat out into the water, break out the fishing rods and bring home some whoppers. But he's going to have to wait. Wait for his eggs to hatch.

About three weeks ago, while scraping, painting and varnishing his boat Liberty, he noticed something strange - a little nest filled with eggs underneath the back lip of the boat. He said at first he thought they were seagull eggs until a few days later when he saw a large female Mallard duck sitting on the makeshift nest made of rags and whatever else she could find on the boat.

"Oh, boy, if you don't look at her she's alright," he said of his visitor,"if you just go about working and sanding and stuff."

The only problem, perse, is that Rainford can't move his boat, what with the nest directly above his boat's propeller. He really wants to go fishing, and he'd also like to get the Liberty into dry dock so he can finish painting her.

"She's holding up the progress," he said.

As soon as you step onboard Liberty, the mama Mallard starts hissing, puffing up her chest and exhaling with a sound that resembles a large snake. Rainford has set up a nice little spot for the duck with some corn scratch in a dish and a bowl of water.

"I got a sack [of corn] in there, about 10 pounds. If she needs more, I'll get it," he said.

Rainford's situation has become the talk of the port for many, with everybody pulling for the ducklings.

"Everybody is just laughing around here about it," he said. "I mean, people I don't even know. That guy clear over there, he knows it.

"Everybody says I'm the dad and I'm supposed to name them all," said Rainford, who added that he is yet to name the mama, sticking with "just 'Duck.'"

"Duck" was pretty smart in deciding to build her nest where she did, sheltered from the elements and from predatory birds that would eat the eggs without a second thought.

"If she had'em on the bank, they would have them right now," Rainford said.

In order to try and figure out what to do about the situation, Rainford said he grabbed one of the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Department officers that were patrolling the docks. After a smattering of ideas, they decided that for now the nest and the boat would be staying put.

"They don't know what to do either, they're puzzled about it too," Rainford said. "They couldn't believe it. I mean, there's over 700 boats in here and this duck picked this boat to have her little ones.

"So we're going to do whatever we can so they hatch out."

Rainford said that he will be making a box in which he can put the nest while the mama duck is away taking one of her short breaks, so that he can move it on and off the boat.

"When I come back in from fishing, we'll set it back in her place."

He's even thought about putting up some chicken wire on the back end to keep the chicks corraled once they hatch. Baby ducks tend to stay close to the nest for the first couple of weeks, until they venture into the water. Until then, Rainford will be the happy caretaker of this little family, even if just like real family, there's a little pain involved from time to time.

"Ouch! That was a good one there," he exclaimed after a nip on the finger from Duck as he tried to move a piece of rope from near the nest. "You thought you got something to eat, but I've got all the meat still on my fingers yet!"

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