Junior: A Duckling Tale

Adorable duckling being held in the palm of a person's hand.


The tale of Junior began in the spring of 1960 in an Embryology class for biology majors. This class was taught by Mother Bernice Farrens, PhD, who taught biology and was chairperson of the department.

As part of the class, we studied the embryo development of duck eggs. Chicken eggs were normally used, but a student in our class was able to get Mallard duck eggs instead. The study started with 24 fertilized eggs. 21 of the incubated eggs were used to study the various stages of embryonic development. At the end of 21 days, three ducklings hatched. However, due to various conditions, only one survived: That was Junior, who was hatched the last week in April. My fellow biology student, Ann McGown, was very proud of the duckling for not only hatching, but surviving. Ann and I became the surrogate mothers. I think it was Ann that named the duck Junior, because it was too young to determine its sex. So, she decided that Junior was a good name.

After the hatching, Ann and I took Junior to be introduced to various faculty members and students. Ann was very excited to show Junior to Mother Redman, who was a history professor. She said to Mother Redman, “We had a whole duck, imagine a whole duck!” Mother Redman’s reply: “You were expecting a half?” The look on Ann’s face was priceless. We all had a good laugh!

Junior settled into its new home in the biology lab. It was very well looked after and of course grew bigger and stronger by the day. After about six weeks, we realized that the school year was ending and summer vacation was ahead. What about Junior? At about this point, Junior had started getting feathers and we were now sure that Junior was female, but we decided to keep the name anyway.

I’m not sure how I was selected to take Junior from San Diego to Everett, Washington (where I lived). My two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, also SDCW students, were thrilled with the idea, but we had to convince my mother and her sister, Aunt Mary. They were driving down from Everett to the San Diego College for Women (SDCW) to pick us up and had no idea of what was about to happen. They arrived in San Diego and checked into Town & Country Hotel, near school. During dinner that evening we told them of our “extra passenger.” Mom and Aunt Mary were surprised but if that is what we wanted to do, then it was OK with them.

We assured them that Junior would be well looked after. We made sure she had a proper box and lots of plastic and newspaper to line the box for the trip, and made sure Junior would have plenty of food and water. Mother and Aunt Mary had decided we would not be going straight home. We would leave San Diego and our first stop would be Las Vegas. Aunt Mary and Mom did like to play the slots there! The next morning, just after sunrise, we loaded the car. We made sure Junior’s box had its place behind the driver’s seat. Now we were ready to begin our journey home with Mom driving and Aunt Mary in the front seat and the three of us in back seat looking after Junior.

We had been driving several hours and noticed that Mom kept pulling over into the right lane, even though there was no reason to do so. Well, Junior’s quacking made Mom think someone was honking for her to pull into the right lane so they could pass her. After assuring her it was only Junior, she was OK and we proceeded onto Las Vegas. It was very hot going through the Mohave Desert, but it didn’t seem to bother Junior. We were doing just fine and all was working as planned.

Just before arriving in Las Vegas, Mom noticed something was wrong with the tires. She decided that before we left for Reno, which was our next stop, she wanted the tires checked. Well, it turned out she was right and new tires were needed. This meant a couple of hours at a tire service station to get four new tires.

But what to do about Junior? She stayed in the car. We made sure she had fresh water and food and two car windows open for plenty of air. We remember leaving the tire store with Junior quacking as the car was being lifted up for the tire replacement. The guys in the shop were quite amused with our passenger. The car with new tires was ready in about three hours. We returned and Junior was very happy to see all of us. The next stop was our motel and a bath for Junior. We would leave for Reno the next day.

The motel had a great bath tub. It was quickly filled with warm water and Junior was very glad to have a swim. We finally got settled for the night. We decided to put Junior back into the car so no one would hear her if she quacked. The nights are cool in the desert so she would be fine. The next day, just before sunrise, we heard from our motel window several men going to their car from the casino. I guess Junior heard voices too and started to quack. One of the guys says to the others, “I hear a duck quacking!” But the others assured him that he was hearing things and there were no ducks anywhere near. But the guy persisted and said “I know I heard a duck quacking.” Little did they know how near they were to a duck and how right their friend really was. But the guys got into their car and left. Junior was safe. About that time, mother decided that it was time to hit the road again and head to Reno, our next stop. I think mom was getting very anxious to get home.

We arrived in Reno in the late afternoon. We all were tired and ready to find a motel to relax and regroup. While riding with Junior, we noticed that her box was falling apart from water and food. It was quickly decided a new box was in order. The next question, where would my sister and I find a suitable box? The box hunt was on. But before we left the motel, we put Junior in the bath tub so she could paddle around and relax. We pulled the shower curtain so she could have privacy. What we didn’t know at the time was that my Aunt Mary was looking forward to a nice hot tub to relax in. While we were on our box hunt, Aunt Mary pulled bathtub curtain to get the tub ready for her, only to find Junior was happily swimming around!!! Aunt Mary never forgot that event!

My sister and I found a suitable box without too much trouble. I think we found it in the basement of a hardware store nearby. The clerk was very helpful once we told him why we needed it. We returned with the box, fixed it up for Junior with clean plastic and many newspapers and filled Junior’s water bottle and food dispenser. She was a happy duck. Oh, we also drained and cleaned the tub so Aunt Mary got her bath. All was well. Dinner was great that evening and we all got a good night sleep. The next day, mom had decided that she was headed for Everett, Washington, which was 733 miles away. We left just after sunrise and headed for home. Thirteen hours later, we arrived.

Home at last!! It was about 10:30 PM. Needless to say, we all were very tired and anxious to finally get out of the car. Dad was there to greet us with open arms. We quickly got the car unloaded, except for Junior. If I remember correctly, Mom and Aunt Mary went into the house, sat down at the breakfast room table and each poured a glass of bourbon and water.

Now it was time to introduce Junior to Dad. My sister went out to the car with dad to get her. Poor Junior had no idea what was going on so late at night. My sister carried her out of the box but instead carrying her into the house she put her down on the grass in the front yard so dad could see her better. Well, that wasn’t the smartest she could have had. It was pretty dark outside and all I remember is Junior running in the front yard headed for an embankment area. She whizzed through there. Now there was no telling where she might end up. My sister ran into the house in tears, Junior was gone!

Dad and I went back to the place where Junior was last seen and started the hunt for her. As we were looking through the bushes, our neighbor across the street was coming home. After he parked his car at his house he spotted Dad looking in the bushes at 11 p.m. He asked dad what he was doing and dad answered looking for a duck! The neighbor’s reply was, “You are looking for a WHAT?” At that moment, I saw a small creature huddled by our neighbor’s garage. I found her! I then picked her up and proudly showed her to our neighbor. I don’t think he ever forgot that night. Dad and I returned to our house with Junior in my arms and all was well. Junior had made yet another unforgettable impression.

Junior settled into her new surroundings. We had a 10-year-old Collie named Chip who had been with our family since he was born. I am not sure what his thoughts were when he saw Junior. But since it seemed she was a part of the family, he would look after her too. That was a start of a beautiful relationship between Chip and Junior. As the summer progressed, Junior grew into a beautiful female Mallard duck. She followed Chip all over the yard and would cuddle with him at night. To make sure Junior felt right at home, we got a pool for her swimming activities, and a shed for nesting. Junior gave us many happy hours of just watching her. She loved to eat the slugs in the yard and any other insect. She laid many eggs. Sometimes they had no outer shell. When this occurred we added calcium to her diet. Many delicious meals were prepared with her eggs.

Junior lived with our family for several years. One day my mom went to check on her but she was gone. She never returned. All we can think of was another male Mallard duck flew over the house and she joined them. We hope that she found a suitable mate and they made a nest and she raised many ducklings of her own. She was truly a remarkable duck. — Martha Fiorino Dowell ’61 (BA), SDCW




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