Saturday, January 22, 2011


Joel Armstrong catches the first duckling to jump from the nest.

Year After Year A Family Of
Ducks In Washington Looks
Forward to More Adventures

July, 2010 — To the mother duck, positioning her nest 15 feet above street level must have seemed like an ideal way of protecting her brood from predators

A mallard duck nests on a ledge beneath the corporate offices of Sterling Savings Bank in Spokane. There has been a nesting duck in the same place for at least three years. The only problem is how to get the ducklings back to the (very hard) ground and on to water in one piece once they were hatched.

Enter Joel Armstrong, a bank official also known as 'Duck Man' for his ability for catching ducklings as they leap from a 15 foot high nest outside his office — in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Photo on right shows two more ducklings making the big leap.

Saved from injury and possible death, the ducklings were placed on the ground next to mum and then guided by Mr. Armstrong the quarter of a mile through busy traffic to the nearest river.

The ducklings' remarkable journey of survival was captured by a Sunday Telegraph photographer, who followed their progress from the nest to their first swim in the water. The series of photographs show the ducklings, still unable to fly, tumbling from a building ledge and being caught by Mr. Armstrong before they hit the concrete.

Joel Armstrong and others block the traffic and encourage the ducks across a busy intersection.

As crowds gather, they walk along the pavement, cross three roads and then jump into the water. Mother duck leads her ducklings the final few yards to the Spokane River. (Photo on right).  

Mother duck laid her eggs in the middle of June in a nest overlooked by Mr. Armstrong from his office window.  Each day, Mr. Armstrong would go to work at Sterling Savings bank in the American town of Spokane in Washington State and wait patiently for the eggs to hatch.

"Once the last one hatches, I know I have about 24 hours before it's time for them to leave the nest," explained Mr. Armstrong, 44. "When mother duck starts looking down, I run out of the office and wait for the ducklings to jump.

"The mother jumps first, quacks at the ducklings above and they follow. The tricky part this time was when two jumped at pretty much the same time. Luckily I am ambidextrous and I caught one in one hand and one in the other."

With skills an England goalkeeper could only dream of, he caught all 5 ducklings in quick succession as they tumbled from their nest high above the concrete pavement. Mr. Armstrong, a father-of-two who admits to better than average hand-eye co-ordination, has had practice at duckling-catching, having performed his heroics twice before in 2008 and again in 2009.

He's not sure if it's the same duck laying eggs each time, admitting: "They all look the same." To date he has caught 26 ducklings in three years. And no, he hasn't dropped one yet.


Spokane's Downtown Duck Hero
On Tuesday, May 20, 2008, a Spokane man who works downtown as a loan officer at a local bank, became a hero in the eyes of his sister and many of his co-workers. What follows is his story, as told by his sister, Candace Mumm:
Something really amazing happened in Downtown Spokane this week and I had to share the story with you. Some of you may know that my brother, Joel Armstrong, is a loan officer at Sterling Bank. He works downtown in a second story office building, overlooking busy Riverside Avenue.
Several weeks ago he watched a mother duck choose the cement awning outside his window as the uncanny place to build a nest above the sidewalk. The mallard laid ten eggs in a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched over 15 feet in the air. She dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks, and Monday afternoon all ten of her ducklings hatched.
Joel worried all night how the momma duck was going to get those babies safely off their perch in a busy, downtown, urban environment to take to water, which typically happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching.
Tuesday morning, Joel came to work and watched the mother duck encourage her babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to show them how to jump off! The mother flew down below and started quacking to her babies above.

In his disbelief Joel watched as the first fuzzy newborn toddled to the edge and astonishingly leapt into thin air, crashing onto the cement below. My brother couldn't watch how this might play out. He dashed out of his office and ran down the stairs to the sidewalk where the first obedient duckling was stuporing near its mother from the near fatal fall.
Joel looked up. The second duckling was getting ready to jump! He quickly dodged out of the duckling's sight under the awning while the mother duck quacked at him and the babies above. As the second one took the plunge, Joel jumped forward and caught it with his bare hands before it hit the cement. Safe and sound, he set it by the momma and the other stunned sibling, still recovering from its painful leap.
One by one the babies continued to jump to join their anxious family below. Each time Joel hid under the awning, just to reach out in the nick of time as the duckling made its freefall. The downtown sidewalk came to a standstill. Time after time, Joel was able to catch the remaining eight and set them by their approving mother.
At this point Joel realized the duck family had only made part of its dangerous journey. They had at least two full blocks to walk across traffic, crosswalks, curbs, and pedestrians to get to the closest open water, the Spokane River.
The onlooking office co-workers then joined in and hurriedly brought an empty copy paper box to collect the babies. They carefully corralled them, with the mother's approval, and loaded them up into the white cardboard container. Joel held the box low enough for the mom to see her brood. He then slowly navigated through the downtown streets toward the Spokane River, as the mother waddled behind and kept her babies in sight.
They walked block by block to the water’s edge. As they reached the river, the Sterling Bank office staff then tipped the box and encouraged the younglings, quite nervous from their adventurous ride, to walk toward the water and their mother. She approached her brood and marched them to the brink, ushering them with a splash into their new watery home.
All ten darling ducklings safely made the plunge and paddled up snugly to momma duck. Joel said the mom swam in circles, looking back toward the beaming bank workers, proudly quacking as if to say, "See, we did it! Thanks for all the help!"
Thankfully, one of the co-workers had a digital camera and was able to capture a series of photographs which you can see here:

Follow-up Interview with Joel Armstrong in August 2008, go to:

Ducks Make Splash
With Parade Of Their Own

The title of the children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings” was rarely truer than on Saturday May 16, 2009, when Spokane’s famous mama duck took her dozen day-old ducklings for a walk to the park.

Thousands had already gathered for the Lilac Festival parade. But as the mama mallard and her offspring made their way to Riverfront Park, the crowds parted. And while the story had a happy ending, getting down to the water was a long, scary adventure.

“That was a deal,” said Joel Armstrong, a loan officer with Sterling Savings Bank who also is known as the duck man. “We did it. I never thought we’d make it.”

For parade goers, it was a twofer. People clapped, cheered and cooed. Spectators yelled out their recognition of the mama duck. She’s gained a following of more than 500 fans on her Facebook page since nesting in the concrete awning at Sterling Savings at Howard Street and Riverside Avenue.

This is the second year the mama mallard has picked the bank as a nesting spot. Last year, an e-mail about Armstrong helping the ducklings to safety went viral on the Internet, giving him and the duck a modicum of fame.

“I think she thinks it’s a safe place,” Armstrong said, though he later admitted he doesn’t think like a duck. “It gets good sun. There are no predators. If she nested in the park in the weeds, the marmots might find her.” Just one problem. After the ducklings hatch, they have to leap off the 12-foot-high ledge onto the pavement to make their trek to the water.

Or at least they would, if Armstrong weren’t there to help. The ducklings began hatching about 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 15, 2009. The Sterling loan officer started his duck watch at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. He wanted to be there to catch the ducklings as they jumped off the ledge. “Joel used to play baseball for Lewis and Clark, so he’s actually a good catcher,” said Armstrong’s sister, Candace Mumm.

Once they were all down, Armstrong put the ducklings in a box like last year and tried to lead the mama duck to Riverfront Park. She disapproved. Apparently she intended to "parade" her babies for all to see! Instead, Joel and his family members walked along side their feathered friends, doing their best to provide an escort through the crowded streets.

Armstrong’s daughter, Emily, even stopped the classic cars in a pre-parade event with her “Brake for Ducks” sign, but mama duck flew away.

For a brief moment, it must have been a duck mother’s worst nightmare. She was separated from the 12 children she had just welcomed into the world.

In an effort to locate the mama duck, Armstrong went back to the bank. The mallard soon arrived, but she would not have anything to do with her ducklings until they were dumped out of the box.

Armstrong turned them loose, and it was as if the mama duck had planned a leisurely stroll to the park with her youngsters all along. All 12 ducklings fell in line and followed her, on foot, all the way to the river's edge and hopped into the water for their first swimming lesson.


  1. AWW..God Bless you Joel

  2. This was an inspiring story and I was looking up the Armstrong family info because I had been a acquaintance of Evan Armstrong. My older brother and sister went to school with Joel's and Candace's mother, JOYCE, and I have good memories of her with my sister. I grew up in Spokane and am familier with this story and it was great to re-read it and feel inspired again.