Fowl problems: Liesl McQuillan is the damsel to call when ducklings are in distress

Leisl McQuillan has a heart for rescuing feathered friends. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)
Leisl McQuillan has a heart for rescuing feathered friends. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)

Scroll through the Lakewood Facebook page, the gossipy but addictive social media site, and you’ll see the usual posts: Neighbors seeking a reliable plumber or the best tacos in East Dallas; complaints about crazy drivers on Abrams or unruly children on restaurant patios; photos of ducks in the backseat of a Prius.

That last post would come from Liesl McQuillan, former philosophy professor, current graduate student, and always the one to call when ducks and geese are in peril.

The Duck Life began for McQuillan about five years ago when she saw a mother duck and her brood of six ducklings unwisely wandering back and forth across Abrams.

“I got involved,” she says, “because the ducks were almost hit several times as people fly down that street. I couldn’t stand the thought of those ducks being splattered all over Abrams.” She managed to herd them into a nearby neighbor’s backyard pool, but the neighbor didn’t take kindly to permanent ducks, so McQuillan got creative and enlisted the help of her Richland College philosophy students. She offered a few extra credit points to all those willing to assist in catching the little guys.

Long story short, the students left with boosted averages and the ducklings spent the night in McQuillan’s bathtub. Besides the extra credit, the students benefited in other ways. “My students had a fantastic time that day. I found that students who engaged in some sort of giving back activity did much better in my class than the ones who did not,” she says. “They got to know each other and they learned to work as a group, something essential for discussion-based classes.”

It was McQuillan’s first duck rescue, and the learning curve was steep.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she admits, “so I didn’t catch the mama. We chased her all over the neighborhood, trying to catch her. I was devastated that we couldn’t.”

Wanting the best possible outcome for the babies, McQuillan took to the internet and found Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hutchins, a facility for injured, sick and orphaned birds. She was advised by center director Kathy Rogers not to take the ducklings to White Rock Lake because turtles, abundant at the lake, tend to eat baby ducks and geese.

She safely transported the babies to Hutchins the next day, where they received the care they needed.

Her next rescue was at White Rock Lake, a goose and duck pair who were close friends and waddled everywhere together. McQuillan was coming in from sailing when she encountered the two following folks around, trying to climb into vehicles. She did a bit of detective work, found no one in the vicinity with any knowledge of them, and put in a call to Rogers Wildlife Rehab. She was told the duck and goose were likely newly released pets who wouldn’t survive in the wild.

The feathered buddies were relatively easy to catch and took a little ride in McQuillan’s Prius, hanging out in her bathroom until a trip the next day to Hutchins.

Thanks to social media, word soon spread that she was the one to call for ducks and geese in a jam, and she has been rescuing ever since.

But just how does she catch these birds? The secret is towels. Or blankets. Using a trick she learned from Rogers Wildlife, McQuillan calmly approaches birds, then quickly but carefully tosses a towel over them.

“They immediately stop moving. But you need to be very careful to not hurt their necks,” she cautions, then adds, “After that, it’s vitally important that when you pick them up, you pin their wings down so they don’t flap frantically and break one.”

Because so many of her rescues have happened late in the day, the birds get to stay at the Hotel McQuillan overnight. So, what’s that like, having a bathroom full of ducks?

“It’s different every time,” she says. “The first gaggle of ducks were little and quiet and pooped very little.”

The goose and duck pair who were buddies? “They pooped everywhere.”

But she fondly recalls, “They were so sweet. They freaked out when they were separated, so they really were bonded.”

McQuillan admits she grows attached. “Oh, god, I want to keep all of them. But the one I really wanted to keep was a Sebastopol goose from the lake.”

She later found out he was raised and ultimately released by a family who lives on the lake. “He was so friendly and sweet. You could cuddle him.”

Dubbed “Sebastian,” he now lives a happy life wandering the grounds of the facility in Hutchins.

Even though she has about a dozen rescues under her belt, McQuillan deflects praise. “I couldn’t do any of it without the awesome wildlife rehab community in Dallas. I’m not really a rescuer; I just know who to call and where to take them.” Sebastian and other birds who’ve ridden in her Prius to health and safety, though, just might disagree.


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