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The Slice: Armstrong leads quack team of rescuers

Tue., May 27, 2008, 1:59 p.m.

Joel Armstrong was worried.

A mother duck had laid her eggs in a concrete planter box just outside his second-floor office overlooking Riverside Avenue in downtown Spokane. It’s about 15 feet down to the sidewalk.

How was she going to get the hatchlings down?

One morning last week, the senior loan officer got his answer.

The mother duck glided straight down to the sidewalk in front of the Sherwood Building, there on the north side of the busy street. Then she beckoned her brood.

Armstrong, a 42-year-old employee of Sterling Savings, raced outside to watch. He kept his distance.

A brown and yellow puffball appeared on the edge of the concrete overhang. It jumped.

The baby bird landed hard. For a long moment, it was stunned and motionless.

Armstrong knew he had to do something.

So he positioned himself back under the overhang. Other onlookers alerted him when another duckling-leap appeared imminent. And when the next one took the plunge, Armstrong stepped out and gently caught it. He then set it down next to its mother.

He did this for all the remaining baby birds. The mother duck voiced no objection.

“One time, two jumped at once and that was pretty tricky but I got them,” said the former Lewis and Clark High baseball player.

There were 10 ducklings in all. Even the first leaper seemed to have revived.

But now there was a new problem. The urban feathered family was spreading out. One duckling had hopped off the curb and couldn’t get back up.

“The mom was panicking,” said Armstrong.

So the impromptu rescue team put the tweeting youths into a copy-paper box and slowly headed for Riverfront Park. Again, the mother duck went along with the plan.

“I think she kind of knew that we were helping,” said Armstrong.

En route to the park, the mother got in the Parkade plaza fountain and signaled her human support staff to bring the babies.

Team Armstrong wisely overruled her and kept heading toward the river. Still, they weren’t home free.

“We were a little concerned that the water would be moving too fast,” said Armstrong.

But they found a calm stretch at the river’s edge. Then they put the box down on its side and mom took over.

The ducklings lined up behind her and she led them to the water. She jumped in and the little ones followed.

“Plop, plop, plop, plop, plop,” said Armstrong.

The mother swam tight circles around her bobbing babies. She quacked and wiggled her tail. And she looked up at her happy helpers standing nearby.

“It seemed like she was thanking us,” he said.

If you see Joel Armstrong today, feel free to do the same.

•Today’s Slice question: How old is the verifiably oldest dog in the Inland Northwest?

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