Aflutter over a brood's exclusive address

Just when federal officials thought "The Case of the Ducks" was closed, more peeps are heard near the White House.

Forget filibusters, ethics committees, and whether or not Laura Bush watches "Desperate Housewives."

What really interests Washington - and much of the rest of the country, it seems - is the fate of a certain mallard mother duck and her 11 ducklings.

Unless you've had your head buried in the Social Security debate, you probably know about the mama duck who chose for her nest the weak shelter of a newly planted elm at the Treasury Department - one door down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Last Saturday 11 ducklings were born, and on Sunday nothing less than a federal motorcade escorted mother and peeping babies to a new home in the more bucolic Rock Creek Park.

(Ha! Mama duck must have channeled to her distant relatives of Boston fame: Being escorted across the street by whistle-blowing Irish cops was so 20th century!)

The official transfer in Washington was the talk of domestic and foreign media outlets alike. But it seems this matriarch took one look at her new surroundings and saw this as a rude banishment. And she would have nothing of it.

"C'mon, kids," she must have quacked. "This is America, we have our rights - we're going home!" Because by Tuesday afternoon, mama and babies appeared to be making their way back - you guessed it - to the Treasury.

Uncustomarily, tourists had their back turned to the White House as they snapped photo after photo of the mallard mom with neat line of ducklings in tow in Lafayette Park. At one point mother duck ventured into the dry bed of a switched-off fountain, only to quack-quack nervously when she realized her offspring could not get out.

The park crew sprang into action, laying boards to try to coax the flock out. One worker was heard radioing to someone, "I tell you, they're back."

But were they really? Could this possibly be the same family of 12 that had been taken to a new home over a mile away just two days before? By Wednesday, Park Service groundskeeper James Sledge, busy replacing grape hyacinths and red tulips, could confirm only that the family of ducks in the park Tuesday had been escorted south and into the White House grounds to the north fountain.

"I know it was the same number of babies, and they looked the same, but I don't see how they could have come that far," said Mr. Sledge, "unless ..." and his sentence ended there, indicating the different scenarios he'd be contemplating.

Whoever the mother duck was in the dry fountain basin, she became more nervous on Tuesday as more people gathered around. The boards that the crew laid down didn't work. So finally the crew shooed mama and lifted the babies out - to a round of tourist and office-worker applause.

As the family of 12 headed straight in the direction of Treasury, one father wearing shorts and an impatient frown sighed, "OK, now can we go look at the White House?" But so soon after such a poignant display of female determination, he should have known what was coming.

"We saw that three years ago," offered his wife, as she followed the feathered parade. "Yeah," added his daughter. "I'd rather watch the ducks."

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