EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 3, 2013

Mother duck nests in boat

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — A local tour and river cleanup group may have its own Duck Tour for the Merrimack River

The Clean River Project found a new mascot when a mother duck made a nest in a rope coil under the ship’s wheel of a pontoon boat used to give Merrimack River tours, said Tour and Education Director Dennis Houlihan.

Houlihan docks the pontoon boat at his house on Lowell Street along the river. He said the duck, named Paula, made herself quite at home, padding the rope with feathers and building cover for herself and her eggs by pulling plastic sheets over the nest. When she wants some privacy, she pulls the plastic cover closed.

Houlihan found the mother duck on Father’s Day as he was bringing a group onto the boat for a tour, which includes a cruise west on the Merrimack into Lawrence and back, along with a presentation on land use — covering the pre-Colonial era up through the Industrial Revolution. To his surprise, the cruise and the people didn’t bother her.

“She seems to be happy and she’s safe from predators,” Houlihan said. “The plastic there, she pulls it closed when she’s in there. And she keeps improving on it.”

Rocky Morrison of Salem, N.H., founder of the Clean River Project, said the mother duck definitely claimed the spot as her own. “If he takes the boat and she’s not on it, she’s waiting there for him to get back,” he said.

She has nine eggs, and Houlihan said he believes they could hatch in about two weeks.

“I’m going to let her do her thing. If she wants to leave, I’m not going to stop her from leaving,” he said. “If she wants to stay there, she can stay. But I think when they hatch they’ll want to go back to nature.”

He added that he will leave a gangplank for the ducklings to use until they’re old enough to fly or until they find somewhere else to live.

The Clean River Project was founded eight years ago by a group of neighbors to clean debris out of the Merrimack River, which provides drinking water for a number of local communities, including Methuen. Morrison, Houlihan and other volunteers patrol the river weekly and pull tires, “Dumpsters and Dumpsters of trash,” and even cars out of the river, Houlihan said.

In September, they hauled seven stolen vehicles out in Lawrence.

Donations from the tours go to fund the Clean River Project. “This is our drinking water here, that’s why we do this,” he said.

The duck and her soon-to-be hatchlings likely appreciate the effort, too.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.