CIVIC CENTER — The mother duck rose to her feet and ruffled her feathers, prompting shaky imitation from her ducklings.
With that, the family of 10 marched across the third floor patio at the RAND Corp. building toward a shady bench hideout, complete with plastic bowls of water and platters replete with duck mash, mealworms and organic kale.
The unwieldy trek prompted smiles from several RAND employees, who gathered to watch.
Back at the bench, the mother duck watched them.
“Some people are of the mindset that nature should take its course,” said Benson Wong, a production editor at RAND, while holding a bag of feed. “It would be a different story if we were on the first floor but they’re up here — there’s no way for them to get out.”
The family of mallard ducks was adopted by numerous RAND employees since Amy Clark, an information services and technology application administrator, found them on May 2. Some employees have speculated that nearby construction drove the ducks to RAND, located on Main Street in the Civic Center.
“I looked out, and my jaw dropped,” Clark said. “I’ve been at RAND for 18 years and this has never happened.”
Clark’s first step was to call the Santa Monica Animal Shelter, where Animal Control informed her that moving the ducks would be illegal based on their federal protection. She was then referred to the California Wildlife Center, which gave her information on how to best care for the ducks.
Normally, wild ducks should be left alone, since they are very mobile and can usually find insects for food, said Shawn Oldenburger, an environmental scientist with the waterfowl program at the California Department of Fish and Game.
He added that leaving food and water for ducks can often create more of a problem since it can attract predators.
But this situation is different, said Dina Smith, animal care coordinator for the California Wildlife Center.
Since the birds are so high up in the building, they wouldn’t be able to leave to get food on their own, she said.
So each day, at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., employees like Wong and Lynn Rubenfeld bring food and fresh water to the ducks. Others have helped with donations, or printed signs explaining the best method of co-existence with the family.
In total, eight to 10 employees dedicate a portion of their time each day to the ducks, coordinating shifts and sometimes coming in on the weekends.
Though the patio is relatively protected from ground predators, the team watches for predatory crows, which used to circle around the patio when the ducklings were smaller.
“When you’re an animal lover, that’s what you do,” said Rubenfeld, a business administrator for the publications department.
Tragedy already struck the duck family when two ducklings fell under the railing of the patio’s balcony a few weeks ago. Since then, Wong and Rubenfeld have put up mesh and art board to block the openings at the bottom of the railing.
As a whole, the ducks have not hindered research operations at the think tank — in fact, they offer a welcome break from the high powered environment, said Warren Robak, deputy director of media relations for RAND.
“This is a place where people are really driven,” Robak said. “It’s nice to have a little diversion that’s life-fulfilling. My heart just melts.”
With this kind of relationship, it’s difficult for the employees to think about a time eight weeks from now when the ducklings will learn to fly and move on. But there’s a chance that the mother duck, or the female ducklings may return to care for subsequent flocks.
“I don’t know if we could take care of 30 ducklings,” said Laurie Rennie, an administrative assistant, with a laugh.
“We’d make it work,” Rubenfeld said.