Duckling’s Plight Pulls At Child’s Heart And Purse Strings

As Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire, brother Kyle, friend Lila Wiesenthal and family look on, Elle Maslin is presented with a "Key to Sag Harbor" by Sag Habor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy at the storm drain at the corner of Marine Park and Bay Street where the kids, with help from Chief McGuire, rescued a young duckling that was caught in the drain. MICHAEL HELLER

Sag Harbor Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy in an impromptu ceremony on Friday presented 9-year-old Elle Maslin with a whale keychain to thank her for her generosity after the North Haven and New York City resident donated her savings of $286 to help the village make storm drains along Bay Street safer for ducklings that often fall through the grates.

“It’s my feel-good story of the week,” the mayor said.

“It was very generous and selfless of that little girl to donate her savings to help save wildlife,” added Police Chief Austin McGuire.

The story unfolded early last week when Elle’s mother, Suna Said Maslin, said a mallard duck and its six hatchlings caught her eye in Marine Park, in part, because they were so beautiful and also because she thought it was too late in the season for a new brood to appear.

When she was back in the village that Wednesday, Ms. Said Maslin said she was upset when she saw the ducks again and realized that half the brood had disappeared in a span of only 24 hours. As the mother duck tried to shoo its offspring off of the road, one of the ducklings fell through a large grate into a storm drain, where it quacked pitifully, as its mother ran about frantically searching for it.

Ms. Said Maslin called the Sag Harbor Village Police Department, and Chief McGuire, who just happened to be nearby, responded to the call.

Kyle and Elle Maslin, along with their friend Lila Wiesenthal, pose for a photo with Sag Habor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy and Police Chief Austin McGuire at the storm drain at the corner of Marine Park and Bay Street where the kids, with help from Chief McGuire, rescued a young duckling that was caught in the drain. MICHAEL HELLER

It turns out it’s not that easy to rescue a duckling from a storm drain. For one thing, the cast iron grate that covers the drain is heavy — Chief McGuire estimated it weighed close to 200 pounds — and it was too risky for him to try to lift the cover and have Ms. Said Maslin reach under it to try to retrieve the frightened duckling by hand.

About this time, Ms. Maslin’s 9-year-old daughter, Elle, her brother Kyle, and friend Lila Wiesenthal showed up. The kids cheered on as Officer Randy Steyert used a pair of metal rods as levers to lift up the grate, and Officer Zackary Kline fished out the duckling with a net the department keeps in one of its vehicles for just such occasions. (Chief McGuire said earlier this summer, officers had to rescue three ducklings out of another drain.)
But the children’s joy was short-lived when they saw that the drain also contained the body of a second duckling.

“Mom this can never happen again,” Ms. Said Maslin said her daughter told her and proposed on the spot to donate her savings so the village could buy nets for all its patrol cars and mesh to cover the grates to prevent ducklings from falling through.

“A 9-year-old came up with a simple solution that took a day to implement,” Ms. Said Maslin said proudly.

She added that when Elle was asked how she came up with the idea, she answered matter-of-factly, “Well, there were two ducklings in the storm drain. One died and one was saved. That is not the answer. So I had to find the answer to save all the ducklings.”

Chief McGuire said the village already places mesh over the drains early in the season, but removes it after each year’s ducklings outgrow the danger, because it tends to catch leaves and debris, blocking the drains, but he said the village would put Elle’s gift, which was augmented by $60 donated by her friends, to good use. He suggested it might be used to help defray the costs of a project slated for next month to put in permeable pavement and rain gardens along Marine Park, a project that could result in the removal of some of the storm drains.

In the meantime, Ms. Said Maslin said she and her daughter are thinking about other ways to help wildlife in distress. One idea they have was to set up a wildlife rescue center on their North Haven property.

“Isn’t it wonderful the passion of these kids?” Mayor Mulcahy said. “They saw something, they did something, and now they want to do more.”