Spotlight: Kim Cartwright (Duckmother)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on June 27, 2011

One of our most delightful members is a lady who calls herself “duckmother.” She knows more about ducks of all kinds than anyone I know. She's raised quite a few and has some fascinating stories to tell. I just know you're going to love reading this Spotlight interview!

Duckmother Kim had a lot to tell me, and I don't want to leave any of it out. These are precious stories and you deserve to hear every word of them. So I won't be interrupting or asking questions. I'll step aside now and pass the microphone to Kim....

Kim: I have lived in Arkansas my entire life, as has most of my family. Many people have made fun of AR over the years but let me tell you a little about this beautiful place. We are the only self-sustaining state. We have petroleum, nuclear power, cattle, poultry, textiles, natural gas, etc, that we need for continued existence. We have over 9700 miles of streams and rivers and over 600,000 acres of lakes. Forestland covers over 50% of our state. In addition, we have the only diamond mine that is open to the public. Th2011-06-25/nap/412903ere are diamonds and other gems found every day, and you keep what you find! Can you see why we do not leave the state?!

I have one younger brother and two younger stepbrothers (which I consider my brothers!). Being the only girl and the oldest had its advantages but also disadvantages. However, my brothers always made certain that my boyfriends were good to me…or else! My brothers continue to live around the state and we still play like little kids when we get together.

When I was young (and the only child), my dad taught me how to fish. My aunt a2011-06-25/nap/ab9989nd uncle lived on a creek/spring that had an old metal barrel lying on its side, as the bridge to crossover the water. I would sit on the barrel fishing with no bait…and no fish. My uncle would come out and ask if I was catching anything.  I would answer either “Not yet, but I am about to” or “Oh yes, I have caught a bunch.” They did have a small pond with lots of little fish. My dad and uncle would dig some worms and off we would go. I squealed every time I would get a bite. Today, I have the same passion for fishing.

After my brother Michael was born, we started camping at the “big” lakes and we would go “adventure walking.” My mom had a soft spot for most animals. Because of this we did not have a dog or cat as Mom could not stand for them to get hurt, sick, etc. Therefore, we had unusual pets like lizards, tortoises, frogs2011-06-25/nap/0f10e8, snakes, ducks and bunnies. I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian. Within time, however, I realized that I too could not handle any animal getting hurt, sick etc, which officially ended my vet career.

Shortly after high school, I met the man that would become my husband. After Jeff and I started dating,  we realized his parents and my grandparents lived on the same street. Jeff suddenly remembered me as a small blonde girl who played with his brother Scott. Later in years, Mom had our old Super 8 movies put on tape. As we watched, we saw Dad filming in my grandparents' yard. As he panned around, there was a little boy riding a bicycle…it was Jeff!

Knowing that I could not be a vet, I still yearned to care for others, so I went to college and got my degree in nursing. As an RN, I have seen many joyous sights, as well as some sad ones. However, it has been a wonderful experience. I currently work for a local Urology Clinic and perform bladder cancer treatments.

When Jeff and I bought our first home, I realized that I needed to learn about trees, lawns and flowers. A neighbor su2011-06-25/nap/2499ecggested that I become a Master Gardener. I never enjoyed a class so much! In the past ten years, I have learned a lot and met so many wonderful people. I cannot imagine my life without gardening. My grandmother told me my grandfather desperately wanted to be a farmer but did not think he could support his family, so he became a pharmacist instead…well at least there is “pharm” in the name! After he retired, he turned their backyard into a garden. He planted all kinds of flowers and vegetables. When we visited, he would take all of us around and tell us all about the stuff he had planted and when it would be ripe. The rest of my family was bored in about thirty minutes but I followed him all over the place. He would be so proud that one of us got the gardening bug.

Several years ago, an older woman was unable to plant flowers in her front yard but desperately wanted to see some color when she looked out her window. Her son called and said landscapers cost too much and asked if I was interested in the job. A new business was born! My small staff and I plant for those that are housebound or ill. (We also have a few clients who just do not have time to plant.) Our goal is not to make a living but to make life beautiful for others.

Years ago, Jeff and I were driving on a four-lane road in our neighborhood. We saw a female Wood 2011-06-26/nap/46208eDuck get hit by a car. She had fifteen ducklings behind her. Well, I didn't think that I could get out of the truck quickly enough. I ran around trying to gather the ducklings as Jeff was parking the truck. He yelled that a car might hit me, but I didn't care as long as the ducklings were safe! Most people stopped, but there were a few that sped past me, killing four ducks in the process.

One kind man even got out of his car to help. After we gathered them all up, we took them home and began looking for a box in which to keep them. Unable to find one, Jeff decided to put them in our empty hot tub. He fille2011-06-26/nap/317b32d the very bottom with water and added towels with a small amount of sand on the seat. Those little ducklings cheeped and jumped for a while but slowly they began swimming  and cleaning.

I started calling rehab specialist in our area. None of them took Wood Ducks. We knew the little loves would not survive on their own, so we decided to raise them. Jeff left for the feed store to find out what they needed while I watched the ducklings. All were in a huddle with their little eyes closed. However, one seemed too wet and I was certain he would get too cold. So in that 80+ temperature day, I sat on the seat in the hot tub and put the little baby under my shirt next to my skin. Within thirty minutes or so, all eleven ducks had crawled up my shirt. Jeff was quite shocked that they realized I wasn't going to harm them. We did finally find them a large box and they stayed indoors for the first few weeks.
The ducklings took two baths a day…yes, in our bathtub! That's when I discovered that ducks like to do the same thing at the same time everyday! One evening, I decided they would not get a second bath. They started cheeping slowly, but got faster and louder. Finally, I put them in the tub. Suddenly, the noises turned into the prettiest little chattering. I also discovered they like to play games. One duckling would swim under water and touch another one’s leg and that one would go under. Within a couple of minutes, there would be eleven ducks swimming under water. Water went everywhere and I co2011-06-26/nap/c9779duld not help but laugh at their antics. Slowly, I became their mother; they followed me in a row and ran to me if something spooked them. Jeff made them a cage with a three-bedroom house and a swimming pool. We supplemented their diet with watermelon, green leafy vegetables and crickets. Those ducklings would just about beat up each other trying to get to the goodies first.

We live on a creek that runs into one of the six neighborhood lakes. When the ducklings were about  six weeks old, we introduced them to the creek. In time, they would stay there all day and return in the evening. But one night they did not come home. Je2011-06-26/nap/1b2241ff put on his waders and waded through the creek with a flashlight. He found them at the opening to the lake and they followed him home. The same thing happened the next night and we let them stay away from home all night. They were back the next morning and did not leave the yard or my side the entire day. However, in a couple of days they began staying  out all night, and in a week or so, they stopped coming home at all. They would swim up the creek to the backyard but would no longer come up into the yard. We started going to the lake and feeding them every evening.

They would get out of the water and sit with us, but slowly they stopped getting out of the water. One day, they were nowhere to be found, so we drove to the other lakes looking for them. We finally found them with some other Wood Ducks. We called and they returned the calls, but they would not leave their new friends. We wondered if they were thinking, “Oh thank goodness, we were wondering if there were other ducks that looked like us.” Or “Just look at our parents; they are the ug2011-06-26/nap/b3a6daliest ducks ever!” On the other hand, they may have been saying, “Mom, Dad, you are embarrassing us in front of our new friends!” Wood ducks in our area do not migrate very far, maybe five miles or so. During the winter, we would see them on occasion but by spring, we saw all eleven at the lake! They seemed happy to see us, too. They would get very close to us…to see if we had food! These days, we see up to fifty Wood ducks on the lake in the spring. We like to think they are the ducklings, grand-ducks and so on, of our original flock.

As word spread that we had raised eleven Wood ducks, we started getting calls from vets, the Game and Fish Commission and from other rehabbers! We are the only local people that will take Wood ducks and two of only a few in the state. We have had so many Wood ducks and ducklings t2011-06-26/nap/c7a11ahat I've lost count. We've also raised and rehabbed domestic ducks and one Canada goose. We have had a few other birds as well. A woman called and said two ducks had been in her backyard all day and their mother had not returned. As soon as Jeff saw them, he knew they were doves but didn't have the heart to tell her. We enjoyed raising them very much. We've also had Robins, Woodpeckers and Cedar Waxwings. However, I had to draw the line at a baby opossum!

(Okay, I said I wouldn't interrupt, but I had to know if Kim gave names to her ducks.)

Yes, we name our ducks. Our first flock we named one, two, three and so on, but as we rehabbed more ducklings, we started taking turns naming them. My husband always gives them masculine names like "Turbo.” I use names that have to do with Spring, flowers, plants or colors, but I did name one after a movie character. One of our most beloved ducks got her name from the female role in "My Fair Lady," Eliza Doolittle, except our Wood duck female was named Eliza Ducklittle. Eliza's mother was attacked by a cat. An 85-year-old woman chased after all of the babies but was only able to catch one. She called a neighbor and told them2011-06-26/nap/1bf8ba she did not know what to do with the duckling. Our neighbors quickly told her to call us. When we saw Eliza, she still had her egg tooth (it is on the tip of duckling’s bills to help them crack open their egg) which falls off within the first 24 hours of life.

At night, I got up every two hours to turn on a heating pad that was under 1/2 of the box, basket or whatever was used for sleeping. I was quite tired when I had to get up at 4:30am for work. Eliza was so very chipper! Jeff took her to work with him and she jumped and cheeped all morning. She would eat and drink but that was all…she wanted her mother! I returned home around noon and Jeff brought the very unhappy duckling to me. I knew if she could hear my heart beating, she would calm down. Therefore, I got a washcloth, wrapped Eliza in it2011-06-26/nap/734784, lay back on the bed and sat her on my chest. When Jeff returned, he found both of us sound asleep. Eliza had inched her way out of the washcloth and was sleeping on my chin…I was officially her momma! (This is my profile picture) On occasion, she would awaken in the night and start cheeping. I just put her on my chest and we would go back to sleep. Just like a baby!

As she grew, she did what we did. If I was on the computer, she sat next to my hands. When Jeff went to shower, she followed him and would sit and wait for him to get out and then she would get in. When we went to the lake, she was with us. One very hot summer day, Jeff and I decided to get into the cool tub (the hot tub without the heater turned on) and Eliza flew straight to us and dived to the bottom. She knew it was off limits, but if Mom and Dad were in there, it must be okay. She took over the cool tub from that day!

When Eliza was old enough to fly, she would tug on our clothing and kind of scold us for not going with her. She would fly around the house and then land in her cool tub and just chatter. We decided she was telling us how much fun it is to fly. We started taking he2011-06-26/nap/78f0e0r to the lake, hoping she'd want to be with our other Woodies, but sometimes she'd fly right back to her cool tub!

Finally one night, she stayed out all night. We left the deck light on for her, just in case she came home in the middle of the night. She was by the backdoor the next morning! Eliza was like no other Wood duck that we've had and she did not stay out all night again for at least a month or two. Eventually though, she did not come home one night and Jeff went insane. The next morning, he went to each area of the lake looking for her. When a week had passed, I knew she was not returning so I threw away her box. That night, after dark, Jeff decided to go down to his shop. When he opened the door, he heard a familiar chattering. Eliza had come home! She talked and talked to us. We figured she was telling us all about her adventure, or maybe she was letting me have it for throwing away her box!

Eliza did finally leave home. She met a young male Wood2011-06-26/nap/67938a duck that we named Professor Henry Higgins (Also taken from the movie “My Fair Lady”). They have had several ducklings and continue to live at the lake. Each spring, Eliza flies around the house a few times but does not land. I saw her about a week ago. She and Henry were close to the lake bank as I passed by on my way to work. I rolled down the window and the two little ducks started swimming away, until I said, “Eliza.” She immediately turned around and headed in my direction.

As stated before, I also name by color. We had one duck named Khaki Quackie. Khaki was a Khaki Campbell, which is a domestic breed. A young man in college bought her and kept her in his dorm room. Of course, it didn't work out. He brought her to our lake and tried to let her go but she would not leave his side. He asked a woman if she knew anyone that would take the duck. The woman just happened to be our neighbor, so he followed her to our house. We a2011-06-26/nap/995efalready had two Wood ducks and they were taking a bath when the doorbell rang. I heard Jeff talking but couldn't hear the exact conversation. As I rounded the corner, I saw the most beautiful brown duckling. It was love at first sight! I put her in the tub with the other ducklings but they were all scared. I took the two Woodies out, so she could bathe in peace and as I walked away, she cheeped louder than any other duckling I had ever heard. She became my constant companion. I carried her in a basket and she tagged along to the store, post office, hairdresser and a few other places. As she grew, Khaki, became the neighborhood mascot. If the neighbors had company coming, they would tell them to slow down when they got close to our house because Khaki may be wondering around. She was a very social duck and if she heard a neighbor outdoors, she would go see them. I'd go outside and call her name and she would quack v2011-06-26/nap/6738daery loudly and the neighbor would yell that Khaki was at their house. I'd tell her “to get her feathers home” and within a couple of minutes, I'd see a little waddling duck heading home. She enjoyed playing with kids but if they got too feisty or if she was tired, she'd run and jump in my lap. She especially enjoyed Halloween. When the doorbell rang, she'd waddle to the door! One little boy asked me if she was a real duck. I said, no, she is a dog. She is just dressed up like a duck.

A few years ago, city animal services brought me a Wood duck duckling. The only problem was, it was not a duck. It was a Canada goose. We had never had a goose before but I had already agreed to rehab it. Hubby named him Dudley Do-Right. Dudley and Jeff were great pals. When Jeff would leave for work in the mornings, Dudley'd walk to the glass door and watch Jeff drive away. As Dudley grew, I walked him down the street to the lake and then2011-06-26/nap/4ed529 we would return home the same way. Within time, I could leave Dudley at the lake and return home. Then later in the day, I would return to the lake and we'd walk back home. One day, as I started the trek to the lake, I heard a very loud goose honking in the backyard. Dudley decided I was taking too long, so he just headed home himself, stopping along the way to see the neighbors.

One afternoon, a neighbor called to say Dudley was in the middle of the street. I ran to see this very large bird walking down the middle of the street towards home. This happened several times and we decided Dudley was going to be hurt or killed, so Jeff came up with a solution. He would take Dudley to the lake each morning in the back of the truck. Then in the afternoon, he'd return in the truck to get him. I had to ride with Dudley the first few times, but he got the hang of it in no time and really began to love his rides. He would stand next to2011-06-26/nap/7d846e the truck waiting for Jeff to help him into the back, then he'd honk all the way to the lake. It was quite a sight to see.

On the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, I got three ducks - two Mallards and one Blue Swedish (a domestic breed.) I believe they were siblings but had different fathers. We named them Faith, Hope and Love. When they were old enough to fly, they'd fly off the deck each morning to the creek. They'd stay there until dusk and I would go get them. As they got too heavy for me to carry them up the deck steps, I'd walk them around to the front door and let them in. They'd walk to the back door and I'd let them out onto the deck so they could eat and swim before bedtime. One day, some friends from college stopped by for a visit and as nightfall drew near, my friends began to hear a noise at the front door. One of them asked what they were hearing. I walked to the door and in walked three ducks. My friends had no idea that I rehabbed ducks and were amazed that they learned this behavior so readily.

( I know, I'm interrupting again. But I thought you'd all be wondering with me.... Can Kim tell them apart? Is it sad when they leave home? What was that about an opossum??)

Yes, I (usually my hubby, too) can tell the ducks apart. However, once they have been gone from home for a couple of years, I cannot tell them apart except when they answer to their name. You should hear me calling like thirty different names trying to see which one will bring the duck towards me. Think of it like know how parents can tell which twin is which? I do the same with ducks.

No, I did not keep the opossum. I think the little boys that brought the baby to me, hoped I would keep it. Ducks do not have teeth and this little guy had a mouth full! I did help them find a rehab person to take it.

You asked if it hurts when the ducks no longer need me...YES! Actually, I tell people, "I raise them and then release them and then cry!" You should read the journals that I have on the ducks and other birds that we have raised. Most of them will make you teary! Most people have pictures of their children on the fireplace mantle, but not us; we have pix of our birds! Sometimes I get misty-eyed just looking at them.

Over the years, I have learned how to call exactly lik2011-06-25/nap/614759e a female wood duck. No, they do not quack. Females have an "oo-eek" sound and the male's call is like a raspy whistle.


You can hear their calls here. The first is a male and the second is a female. Our ducks recognize my call but they also recognize our voice. Therefore, for the first year, the males and females will answer our calls and/or call when they hear us talking. Usually around year two, only the females will answer and swim to us...with the males close behind. Within time, neither sex may answer but they still recognize our voice, our house, our cars, etc but they have become true wild ducks. That's as it should be. I do not want them to get too close to someone who may harm them.

(I just loved reading about K2011-06-25/nap/919abeim's ducks! I want to hear even more. Maybe we can get her to give us another one or two in the chat threads. However, before we finish the interview, I asked her about the Diamond Mine, and her title of Master Gardener.)

No, I have never found any diamonds but LOTS of folks do! I have not been in years. Some people go everyday and in every kind of weather! Here's a link to Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Master Gardener is a part of the University Of Arkansas Division Of Agriculture but is directed by the State Cooperative Extension Service. We maintain many public gardens. We do all designing, planting, mulching 2011-06-25/nap/b85e1fand care (fertilizer, weeding and such). The city provides much of the soil, fertilizer and extra labor.


No, the class is not free...I believe (now) it is $100 to attend...which includes a fantastic book that is a 3-ring binder with all kinds of info, handouts, leaflets and such, also, lunch and snacks are provided. The class is one day a week from 8:30-4:30 for 6-7 weeks in the extension building. Each class has around 50 people, which consists of garden tours, lectures, demonstrations and guest speakers (such as P. Allen Smith). There is a take-home test each week and an open-book exam at the end, but let me just say, if college had been like this, I would have many more degrees!


The first year, you must donate 20 hours phone time and 20 hours of continuing education. From year two to year fiftee2011-06-25/nap/cdde84n, 20 hours of project service are required, along with education hours. In our county, we have about 400 active Master Gardeners who volunteer on one or two of 40 projects in our area. My project is The Old Mill. We have monthly county meetings as well as state and national conferences, which take place yearly and an international conference, which is every two years. Our city was the host for the international meeting in 2007. We had the highest number of attendees to date with several countries and almost every state represented.

Kim, your intriguing duck tales are heartwarming and very entertaining. Bless you for all you do! You and your husband are outstanding citizens. Your gardening talent is indeed “masterful.” Thank you for enriching so many lives.

I'm sure Kim would like to hear from our readers. Please say hello in the chat threads that follow, and you can click on this link to her find her cubit, Ducks Geese and Other Fowl.  Also, Kim has some additional photos which are not included in this interview.  They can be found in the Sticky thread in the chat area below.


And as always, you can rest your mouse over the photos to read a description, and click on them to enlarge them. And of course, come back next week to meet Sharon's next guest.

Related articles:
Arkansas, diamonds, ducks, interview , Master Gardener, Spotlight, wood ducks

About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

« More articles

Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
[Sticky] -- Additional Photos From Duckmother nap Jun 26, 2011 7:48 PM 4
How fun!! Sharon Mar 31, 2018 6:33 PM 29
Duckmother slcdms Jul 9, 2011 10:29 AM 9
Duckmother murielw1 Jul 5, 2011 10:15 AM 4
Wow!! threegardeners Jun 30, 2011 8:52 AM 17
Thank you duckmother Jun 28, 2011 9:01 PM 1
Wonderful! Trish Jun 28, 2011 8:57 PM 3
Great story! mollymistsmith Jun 28, 2011 1:15 PM 3

Who's Who Spotlight

Who's Who Spotlight features weekly quotes of inspiration, information and humor. We also have a collection of interviews with various Cubits members.

» Home
» Forums
» Articles
» Pages

Cubit owners:

Admin team: