By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tina Chen has her hands full as a New York City actress, director and now surrogate mother to 16 ducklings that have hatched on her high-rise apartment roof deck.
Local mallards, seeking safe spots for their nests, have an eye for prime real estate and often nest on high floors on Manhattan's affluent Upper East and West sides, experts say.
These 16 baby birds born a week ago, are enjoying the hospitality of Chen, whose 12th-floor deck between Madison and Park Avenues has been home to wild ducklings for the last four years.
They are the first of what is likely to be as many as ten broods born this season high atop New York City buildings, wildlife experts say.
Chen is feeding them meals twice a day of duck pellets and shredded greens, putting out water for them to swim in and cleaning up after them, which she says is no small task.
"It's really a lot of work. The poop out there is tremendous," she said. "That's a lot of ducklings."
Michelle Gewirtz, a volunteer at New York's Wild Bird Fund rehabilitation center, has been rescuing baby ducks such as those at Chen's apartment for nine years.
Duck mothers look for safe nesting spots but their planning can fall short, she said.
"They're not really thinking ahead," Gewirtz said. "They want to lay their eggs where there are no predators, but they're not scoping out where there are food sources and water sources.
"They have to depend on the kindness of strangers," she said.
A licensed animal rehabilitator, Gewirtz will move these and other city ducklings to Central Park or to safe sanctuaries in the suburbs before they try to fly on their own.
Ducklings start to fly at six to eight weeks, she said.
The nesting tradition at Chen's apartment started with this mother duck's own mother, the actress said. Most ducklings survived, although some fell victim to harsh weather or predators.
Chen said she has not named the babies but might give their mother a name.
"She comes back every year, now so she should have a good name," Chen said. "I have to give her a lucky name."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)