Kids help Lundberg comb fields before mowing
They didn’t carry colorful baskets, and the eggs weren’t dyed in pastels, but the stakes were higher than usual recently for a group of North State kids who embarked on the ultimate egg hunt.
Last Thursday (April 21), at Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, 30 Shasta Elementary School fifth-graders and 15 other kids affiliated with the local organic rice grower through parents and friends helped clear mallard duck eggs from nests in the farm’s rice fields, just in time to save the eggs from being chopped up by mowers.
“Many, many years ago, farmers used to destroy duck nests while farming,” said Bryce Lundberg, the company’s vice president of agriculture, as he addressed the group of eager schoolchildren in the mid-morning sun. “But now we need your help in finding those eggs so they can be saved.”
The kids piled into a caravan of cars and headed four miles down the road to a field, where they were met with shoulder-high, verdant grass blanketing a lumpy field on which some of the kids struggled to catch their footing. The organic farm plants vetch—covering that is ideal for duck nesting—to be chopped down later and returned to the soil for its nitrogen content.
After a brief talk by a few Lundbergs and licensed duck-egg hatchers, the group fanned across the field in a staggered horizontal line, and snatched up two long ropes adorned with rock-filled coffee cans.
Parent chaperones and even Bryce Lundberg—who kept kids guessing with his on-the-spot trivia questions—assumed positions at the rope as four all-terrain vehicles attached to each end fired up their engines.
The stench of exhaust filled the air as the ATVs inched forward, and the kids lifted their knees high to trudge through the itchy thicket. The clatter of the pebble-filled cans drowned out squeals from the kids, some of whom started shouting, “This is so fun!”
Within minutes, the grumbling motor of the ATV lulled, and screams erupted as a duck, startled by the noise, flew up from its nest. About a dozen nearby children left their positions behind the rope and threw their bodies to the spot ahead.
A volunteer reminded the kids to step carefully and shielded the nest from eager hands as he removed a few eggs. The group resumed its position and again trudged straight ahead, continuing to stop and collect eggs as the occasional duck launched from the grass.
The group reached the end of the 10- to 15-acre field in about an hour, and turned around and plowed back in half the time. When they reached their starting place, they had collected 53 mallard eggs—grayish eggs just a little smaller than a chicken egg—and the kids were itchy, sweaty and thirsty.
“My arms hurt,” said 10-year-old Molly Roles. “That was hard work, but fun!” chimed in her 9-year-old cousin, Madison Roles.
The eggs collected during the field trip will go to Derrold Daly—an older man fondly referred to as the “duck man”—who has had a California Department of Fish and Game license to hatch mallard eggs for more than 20 years. During his tenure, Daly has released more than 30,000 ducks into the wild.
This includes incubating, hatching, roosting and banding the birds for wildlife purposes, Daly said. When they are about 5 weeks old, the ducks are released into the Butte Sink Wildlife Management Area, where they have about a 95 percent survival rate.
Collecting eggs is voluntary, but a few other farms in the Live Oak, Yuba City and Gridley areas do it, Daly said. Many mowers keep egg baskets under their seats in case they come across nests.
Eggs collected in the North State are distributed to egg-salvage facilities in the area, including Daly’s facility just a few miles outside Live Oak, and the District 10 Wild Duck Egg Salvage Program near Marysville. More than a dozen volunteers from that program combed the Lundberg fields for several days before and after the kids chipped in.
A few kids at one end of the rope whimpered as nest after nest was found on the other end of the field, but they should know that finding fewer eggs in the field means fewer baby ducks are at risk, Daly said.
“We don’t go out there trying to find as many eggs as we can; we go out there to save as many as we can,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding the nests and scaring the [mother] ducks off, so the eggs don’t get chopped up tomorrow.”