BRADENTON -- Nine tiny ducklings, each no larger than your thumb, and a mother duck got themselves trapped in a storm drain under a Village of the Arts street Sunday afternoon.
And they might have stayed there except for the efforts of neighborhood resident Don McLucas who kept calling and looking for someone who could help.
In the end, it was a group of Bradenton firefighters who answered the call, braved the claustrophobic space of a man hole and a storm drain and went about 10 feet under the road at 13th Street West and 14th Avenue to make the rescue.
An improbable chain of events led up to the rescue.
The chain of events was set in motion by a male duck, the mate of the mother duck under the road, who blocked McLucas from getting into his car and going for lunch.
"I knew something was wrong right then," McLucas said.
Looking around, McLucas heard a noise from under the roadway. He peered through a grate to see the little family of ducks.
He called all of the rescue services he could think of, and then traveled to the nearest firehouse and asked firefighters if they could help.
Without hesitation, Captain Matt Sawyer led a group of firefighters to the scene.
"We have done this before," Sawyer said, but added that often a rescue try is unsuccessful because the ducks will flee into small spaces where firefighters cannot follow.
But Sunday, firefighters removed the heavy iron covers, and climbed down into both a man hole and a nearby storm drain and were able to herd the ducks first one way and then the other, collect them, and hand them to the surface.
Firefighters Will Weaver and Chris Campbell handed the ducks to Sawyer and Doug Huffman who transferred them to a banana packing box.
"The secret today was to keep them from going back down again," Sawyer said.
The hardest member of the family to remove was the mother duck, Weaver said.
"She tried to stay in between us," Weaver said.
McLucas was given the honor of taking the box containing the family of ducks, what he said he believes are black billed whistling ducks, and releasing them into a nearby field.
The mother duck led her brood away from the storm drain. And her mate, which had been watching the rescue from a nearby rooftop, flew down and joined the rest of his family.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1