News & Politics

The Harrowing March of the Georgetown Ducklings (Photos)

An annual occurrence that charms—and scares—humans.

Photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.

The people spotted holding up traffic at 30th and M streets this morning probably didn’t expect to start their Wednesday as crossing guards for the unlikeliest group of pedestrians, a mother duck and her ten tiny ducklings. But here they were on some of Georgetown’s busiest streets—a mother with a toddler and a baby, a building contractor, two men in suits, and a driver who spontaneously parked and hopped out of her car—all acting as traffic cops as the determined female mallard marched her brood down 30th Street to the C&O Canal, a sometimes harrowing journey that involved besting construction vehicles, storm drains, street grates, steps and, last but not least, the intersection of M Street at rush hour.

The humans circled around the pint-sized parade, staying close but not too close, some hustling ahead to stop cars or politely ask workers to shut down a drill or dirt hauler. Everyone obliged. Some followed along in their cars, taking photos. The mother stopped only once, to squat and huddle with her babies in some weeds by a garage door. After a brief pause, the march resumed.

It’s not a first. It seems that each spring this mother duck (or another just like her) relocates her young family from the top of the hill in Georgetown down to the canal. And each year there always seems to be humans ready to fall in line and help her make her way.

When she got to the canal she lifted off the high edge of the tow path and glided down to the water, her wings flapping, her babies hesitated, then plopped off the ledge one by one to the water below. The humans gave them a loud round of applause and patted each other on the back. “See you next year,” said one, heading on to the day’s more imposing, but most likely less rewarding, responsibilities.