The City of Falls Church had its own Beatrix Potter twist earlier this month, when a mother duck and her paddling bunch of 13 ducklings faced a near-eviction from their home along Virginia Avenue in the Winter Hill neighborhood.
The so-called “duck tree,” an aging ash tree, had lost a weak branch that almost struck a Falls Church denizen walking down the avenue. As a result, Winter Hill Housing Association officials and the city’s Urban Forestry department slated the tree for removal.
That is, until citizens uncovered the matronly mallard and her brood in a nesting burrow in the tree’s trunk some five feet off the ground.
An intimate photograph of the ducks taken by Winter Hill resident Joseph Inabnet made it into the July 2 issue of the News-Press, in the Critter Corner spotlight.
“They were just going to chop down the whole thing,” Inabnet said.
He said he believes the Critter Corner “helped the community start talking” about the nesting birds.
The mother duck has been nesting at the site for at least the past two years, said Inabnet, who also shot a video of the ducks posted online.
“As soon as the brood hatched, I wanted to get their picture,” he said. “Sure enough, two hours later, they were waddling around town.”
The ducks also received some special attention from the city government, according to spokesperson Barbara Gordon. She said in a press release that the “Animal Warden advised that the tree should not be removed because federal law protects migratory birds’ habitat and nesting.”
The tree had been targeted for removal because of the fallen branch and the “big cavity” that also housed the duck family, said Jill-Anne Spence, the city’s Urban Forestry manager.
Spence said the discovery convinced the Winter Hill Condominium Association, which had originally sought to remove the hazardous tree, to ask for the tree to remain as a “wildlife stand,” albeit cut down to a shorter, safe size.
When the family of ducks most recently departed, the city proceeded to create the stand on July 10, trimming the top of the tree to just above the ducks’ nest.
Spence noted that the mother duck has been returning for “a couple of years now,” according to residents’ reports. “Hopefully, she will return next spring,” Spence said.
The city, which has provided wildlife stands in public parks across Falls Church, encourages residents to leave trees as wildlife stands, Spence said, “as there are a lot of insects and birds that can benefit from them.”