The Great Montecito Duck Caper

By Gretchen Lieff   |   May 21, 2020
Posted signs asking the community for information that would be helpful

Monday morning… animal rescue phones at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network ring endlessly. Breathless callers trying to save a wild life, Samaritans rush in babies of all shapes and sizes; fawns from the Gaviota Fire, Red tail fledglings, bunnies and squirrels and pelicans and racoons and hummingbirds and on and on and on…

Cars pull into our cramped parking lot at the end of North Fairview, delivering boxes and towels swaddling adorable and terrified babies… some near death.

Baby Season at the Center is a challenge but this year much more so… as humans isolate from COVID-19, resurgent wildlife has kept our volunteers busy, leaving full-time staff overworked and exhausted. Still… every animal at Santa Barbara Wildlife Care is treated with utmost care and professionalism.

At the site of the ducks’ nesting area are SBWLC Volunteer and graphic artist Violet Cota, SBWCN Director of Communications Claire Garvis, and Mt. Carmel’s Groundskeeper Mario Mondragon

On this particular Monday the wild baby triage is particularly intense when the call comes in from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Montecito. A mommy duck with three ducklings and seven eggs is nesting precariously along an outside wall of the church parking lot. Dangerously near the rush of East Valley Road.

Our phone volunteer tells the concerned Church Lady we will send somebody though apparently there’s no imminent threat. Duck 101 teaches us that ducks often choose terrible places to make their nests. However duck etiquette requires we always leave the mama in the nest until all her eggs have hatched… and then relocate Mother Duck and her nest and its precious contents to a safer spot.

It was only natural that the Network’s “Duck Mamas” were dispatched to go to the Church and check things out. Spring Baby Season is notorious for producing a huge volume of orphaned ducklings and our designated Duck Team “mothers” some dozens of ducklings in various stages of development. The little feathered babies need to be watered, fed and happy. Their comfort is our imperative. We take duck work with utmost seriousness.

It’s late afternoon when our Duck Strike Team arrives at Mount Carmel to take the matter “under our wing,” assuring that the nest, the momma duck and her eggs/ducklings are “safe and secure.”

The “Church Lady” directed us to the large parking lot along East Valley Road to a particular oak tree.

“Go ahead and take a look… but the ducks are no longer here… they were taken away by your wildlife person.”


“We thought it was somebody with your Wildlife Care Network… they came and took the ducks away.”

Gone? … but… we didn’t take them… nobody from the Wildlife Network took the ducks.

The Church Lady shrugs.

(We refer to her as “Church Lady” because she doesn’t want her name used in this article.)

A thorough inspection of the site indicates the duck napping culprit is not a predator. There is no sign of carnage… no eggshells… nothing. The scene is scraped clean of evidence… except for some of the mother duck’s soft down on the oak leaves where her nest used to be.

Nesting area at Mt. Carmel Church where mother duck and her three hatchings and eight other eggs were taken

All evidence suggests the ducks have not flown the coop… but rather have been carted away.


“She must have been terrified to have someone just come along… and grab her as she helplessly nests with her ducklings and unhatched eggs.”

Who Would Do This?

A check with the Wildlife Center confirms the likelihood of “fowl play”… determining that the duck nappers were not affiliated with our Center in any way.

So… where… why and how… could 11 ducks disappear from beneath an oak tree at Mount Carmel Church?

Church parish member Maribel Jarchow offers her opinion in the church parking lot; “The ducks were nesting over there under that tree… there was water for them… that’s all I know. We were told the Wildlife people were coming to get the ducks. And now they’re gone and Wildlife says they don’t have them.” So the question is, where are the ducks? Would someone really steal ducklings from a church?

Well, What do YOU Think?

“I hope some good-hearted soul took the duck and the babies… because there are babies involved here… that’s all I can say. That’s all I know.”

There sure is a lot of interest in these ducks… and lots of concern on social media. At a time when so many of our problems seem insurmountable, maybe there’s solace in a small mystery we might actually solve.

Mount Carmel Church Father Lawrence Seyer was kind enough to allow us to post our signs on church property and offers, “I really enjoyed having the ducks here… I enjoyed hearing them and having the mother fly around and quack. It’s also very interesting how many people have commented on the signs… People who may have seen the ducks. Folks really care about wildlife in this town… which is great.”

We post missing duck flyers around the neighborhood and on social media as word of the duck caper spreads. So far, no leads…

You can’t make a quack about ducks in this town without getting advice from Penny Bianchi; “How about checking with people who have ponds on their properties?”

Days pass and it’s Sunday evening. We’re enjoying a glass of wine with an early dinner about to watch 60 Minutes. Frankly it’s been a full weekend of ducks and, just when I think I can’t take another quack, two things happen; a huge male mallard makes a cannonball dive into our pool and the phone rings; “There’s a mother duck and a bunch of ducklings walking down East Valley Road. Can you go check it out?”

No hesitation.

Donna M alerted the Wildlife Network that the ducks were walking along the south side of East Valley Road… between the library and Cota Road. We race there in the approaching twilight. Could this be the missing mother and her ducklings?…

To Be Continued…


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