The title of the classic children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings” was rarely truer than on Saturday, when Spokane’s famous mama duck took her dozen day-old ducklings for a walk to the park.
Thousands had already gathered for the Lilac Festival parade. But as the mama mallard and her offspring made their way to Riverfront Park, the crowds parted.
And while the story had a happy ending, getting down to the water was a long, scary adventure.
“That was a deal,” said Joel Armstrong, a loan officer with Sterling Savings Bank who also is known as the duck man. “We did it. I never thought we’d make it.”
For parade goers, it was a twofer. People clapped, cheered and cooed. Spectators yelled out their recognition of the mama duck. She’s gained a following of more than 500 fans on her Facebook page since nesting in the concrete awning at Sterling Savings at Howard Street and Riverside Avenue.
This is the second year the mama mallard has picked the bank as a nesting spot. Last year, an e-mail about Armstrong helping the ducklings to safety went viral on the Internet, giving him and the duck a modicum of fame.
“I think she thinks it’s a safe place,” Armstrong said, though he later admitted he doesn’t think like a duck. “It gets good sun. There are no predators. If she nested in the park in the weeds, the marmots might find her.”
Just one problem. After the ducklings hatch, they have to leap off the 12-foot-high ledge onto the pavement to make their trek to the water.
Or at least they would, if Armstrong weren’t there to help. The ducklings began hatching about 5:30 p.m. Friday. The Sterling loan officer started his duck watch at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. He wanted to be there to catch the ducklings as they jumped off the ledge.
“Joel used to play baseball for Lewis and Clark, so he’s actually a good catcher,” said Armstrong’s sister, Candace Mumm.
Once they were all down, Armstrong put the ducklings in a box and tried to lead the mama duck to Riverfront Park.
She disapproved. Plus, the nearly 100 people trying to follow her, as well as the hundreds of others on the streets, seemed to make her nervous.
Armstrong’s daughter, Emily, even stopped the classic cars in a pre-parade event with her “Brake for Ducks” sign, but mama duck flew away.
For a brief moment, it must have been a duck mother’s worst nightmare. She was separated from the 12 children she had just welcomed into the world.
In an effort to locate the mama duck, Armstrong went back to the bank. The mallard soon arrived, but she would not have anything to do with her ducklings until they were dumped out of the box.
Armstrong turned them loose, and it was as if the mama duck had planned a leisurely stroll to the park with her youngsters all along.
The ducklings all fell in line and followed her, on foot, all the way.