Neil Pierson was trying to get out of New Orleans and back home to Madisonville late one Thursday afternoon last month when he noticed a duck on the side of the street at Louisiana and St. Charles avenues.
What struck him was how strangely the duck was behaving, even by duck standards: It was in an odd place — for a duck, anyway — and it was doing odd things, waddling back and forth in agitation and coming dangerously close to passing cars.
So Pierson pulled over to see what the matter was and quickly realized why the duck was so distressed: About a dozen ducklings had fallen through the narrow grates of a storm drain and were trapped inside, leaving their mother with nothing to do but careen about the sidewalk, quacking helplessly.
Pierson tried pulling off the grate, but it was stuck in place. Then, he tried to make a ramp with a piece of cardboard for the ducklings to walk up, but it was too steep.
It was about then that Amy Beard was driving by with her 6-year-old daughter, Camille. She, too, was busy, with a trip to Cuba to prepare for, but noticing the odd man and the odd duck, she decided to pull over, as well.
Together, they hatched a plan. As onlookers began to gather, Camille lay on her stomach and reached through the grate far enough for the ducklings to jump into her hands.
One by one they were placed safely into a cardboard box supplied by a bystander. Pierson managed to grab the mother, a black-bellied whistling duck, and get her into the box, as well.
On Thursday, the trio of rescuers met again at the storm drain, this time to be honored with a “Golden Heart Award” from the Humane Society of Louisiana for exemplifying the group’s mission of kindness toward animals.
“What do we say?” Beard coaxed her daughter, trying to get her to come out of her shell as she was questioned by reporters next to the busy street. “All creatures are special … except maybe mosquitoes. That’s our household motto,” Amy Beard joked.
“She’s just a little bit shy in the spotlight,” she said of her daughter.
Beard, a seventh-grade teacher, said she took the ducks to the Audubon Zoo the following morning after calling a veterinarian recommended by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Then, she boarded a plane for that trip to Cuba.
“They are a great reminder to all of us that we need to step up and help and that kindness will always win the day,” Humane Society Director Jeff Dorson said.
Pierson, a physical therapy assistant, said if there is a lesson to be learned, it’s to make the effort to be curious about what’s going on around you.
The duck rescuers and their families were treated to a complimentary lunch at Seed, the vegetarian restaurant on Prytania Street, and given a weekend getaway at Hotel Cazan, in historic downtown Mamou.