HAMMOND | Rescuing and nurturing abandoned or hurt animals is nothing new to Joe Michalik, a volunteer at the Indiana Welcome Center.
Last week, Michalik and a group of visitors watched as four, 8-week-old mallards that Michalik and his son had rescued were released into Optimist Lake behind the center.
“They belong in Mother Nature,” said Michalik, who was working with his son, Joseph Michalik Jr., at the Indiana Welcome Center on June 13 when they were told that there was a wounded duck nearby.
“My son and I went to look for the wounded duck, and it was already in the parking lot next door,” explained Michalik. “She had a broken foot and she ended up flying into the Little Calumet River. I told my son that there’s got to be a nest around.”
Knowing the mother wasn’t going to return to her nest wounded, Michalik and his son found the nest, abandoned with unhatched eggs.
“There were 10 eggs, but some of them were destroyed. We took the others and brought them inside and started warming them back up,” said Michalik. “The eggs were cold, but I told my son we needed to give it a shot.”
Michalik and his son took the eggs home and made a heated incubator. The younger Michalik turned the eggs four times each day until they began hatching 10 days later.
“We checked and the egg was breaking. Then we heard a ‘peep, peep, peep,’” Michalik said.
“After they hatched and dried off, we went to a feed store and bought baby duck food. Once the ducks knew the food and water was there, they did everything on their own,” said Michalik, who built an outdoor sheltered pen.
This was not Michalik's first rescue. “Six years ago, 10 baby ducks were found without a mother at the Indiana Welcome Center,” he said. “I can’t just leave something on its own without helping.” Michalik took those ducklings home to grow before releasing them.
“I hope the ducks start their own families in a couple years and keep coming back (to Optimist Lake),” said Michalik. “We keep destroying the wetlands, I figure, sometimes man has to help Mother Nature along.”