Thirteen eggs in a planter on one of Terry Allen Kramer’s terraces hatched the day she was having a luncheon for friends at her Upper East Side penthouse.
The wild ducklings were not only tiny but also hungry, so she put out dry cereal and shredded lettuce. “And then they wanted the lobster we were having for lunch,” said Mrs. Kramer, the Broadway producer whose hits include the Tony Award-winning “Kinky Boots.”
Her ducklings might have been the only baby birds nibbling on cold lobster in New York City, but they are hardly the only mallards born on Manhattan’s terraces and roof decks, according to Michelle Gewirtz, a volunteer at New York City’s Wild Bird Fund.
Each year, Ms. Gewirtz rescues 10 to 15 clutches of baby ducks from rooftops, no place for them to learn to fly.
When Ms. Gewirtz, a licensed animal rehabilitator who has earned the nickname The Duck Wrangler, started rescuing birds eight years ago, the majority of the nests were on the Upper East Side. Mrs. Kramer’s East 69th Street terraces first became the nesting site for a female mallard three years ago, and again this spring.
“It’s amazing to think that you could be in New York City and wake up one morning and you have a family there,” Mrs. Kramer said. “I almost felt like God had touched me. I had to take care of them.”
This year, several nests appeared on the Columbia University campus and on roofs and in courtyards on the Upper West Side, according to Ms. Gewirtz.
Central Park is rife with predators – from rats to snapping turtles — and the female mallard looks for safer spots, Ms. Gewirtz said.
“So she picks these terraces that are nice and green and secluded,” she said.
Mallards are precocial, meaning the ducklings are born able to eat on their own. Since there isn’t enough food for them on the rooftops, the Wild Bird Fund recommends a special high-protein food for ducklings and dark greens. Mrs. Kramer’s ducklings continued to like lobster, she said, but when her butler returned from Florida, he brought back live worms.
The Wild Bird Fund was created by two women: Rita McMahon, a former market research consultant, and Karen Heidgerd, the practice manager at an Upper West Side veterinary hospital, Animal General. They met after Ms. McMahon picked up a sick Canada goose alongside Interstate 684.
A year ago this month, after a decade of treating animals in Ms. McMahon’s apartment, The Wild Bird Fund opened a wildlife rehabilitation center on Columbus Avenue. Until then, New York was the only major city in the United States without one, McMahon said. The nonprofit organization aims to raise $330,000 each year from donations. As a fundraiser Thursday evening, its showing the movie “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” starring Ben Kingsley. The event begins with at 6 p.m. at the headquarters of The Colonial Dames of America at 417 E. 61st Street.
In the first year, the staff treated 1,400 animals — mostly birds, from peregrine falcons to hummingbirds, and of course pigeons, along with woodchucks, chipmunks and assorted other wildlife. A turkey vulture was brought in with a broken wing after superstorm Sandy and now is at a rehabilitation center with another vulture.
One recent visitor to the center was David Usdan, a psychologist who has been looking after a clutch of about 10 ducklings that hatched on his building’s roof deck in May. He got food at the center and advice from Ms. Gewirtz on creating a pond out of a plastic storage bin.
“There were a couple of mishaps with the ducklings, unfortunately,” he said. “I think five of them may have fallen off the roof. That was really sad.”
And then one day, two of the ducklings somehow made it to the street below. Traffic was stopped until they and the mother got safely to a parking lot next to Mr. Usdan’s building on 113th Street near Broadway.
“It was a crisis,” he said. “We had to figure out what to do. A big crowd was forming in front of the parking lot.”
He and his partner, Howard Brenner, shepherded the ducklings into a box, returned them to the roof and were relieved when the mother reappeared the next morning. But since then another duckling has gone missing, and recently Ms. Gewirtz was plotting how to corral the remaining four.
She prefers to move the ducklings before they try to fly and risk falling to the sidewalk. They are eventually released in parks and on farms and estates.
“People who take care of these ducklings get super attached to them because they are adorable,” Ms. Gewirtz said.
Mr. Usdan said that he would be sorry to see his brood go, though he might get another visit next year. The mallards tend to return to the same place year after year.
Tina Chen, an actor and director who also lives on the Upper East Side, has had four clutches of eggs hatch on her terrace from what she thinks is a mother-daughter duo. The first ducklings, though, were pelted to death by a fierce rainstorm.
“They were just so delicate,” she said. “It broke my heart.”
Determined to make sure the later ducklings survived, Ms. Chen fed them three times a day and kept them more than a month, in hindsight too long, she said.
A few weeks after Ms. Gewirtz moved them to Central Park, Ms. Chen went to try to find them. She believes she did.
“I looked and there were six ducks swimming as fast as they could,” she said. “When they got to the end of the pond, they jumped onto the ground and came towards me.”
But cleaning up after them was a lot of work, and at one point she erected owl and hawk decoys to try, unsuccessfully, to keep the female mallards away.
“I know they’re coming back,” she said. “They know this place, no matter how hard I try.”