A mother duck and seven baby ducklings were swimming around one of the little round pools between the black hole sun sculpture and the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park around dusk last night. Because the ducklings were entirely adorable—they were duck-toddlers, really, about pool-ball-sized, able to swim on their own but unable to scale the cement lip of the pond, making the whole thing a giant playpen of sorts—a group of people had gathered around the pond to admire them. Most of the ducklings hewed closer to their mother, but three were orbiting way out at the edge of the pond, with the bravest one attempting these cute little hops, trying to get out.
Suddenly, a brown-and-white heron unfolded out of the sky and stood next to the pond. People chattered excitedly about this: Most had never seen a heron in an urban environment, and the tall, confident bird looked out of place standing on concrete. The heron stood still, watching the pond out of one giant eye. The mother duck became agitated, blurting abrupt little quacks directly at the heron. All seven ducklings gracefully swam toward the center of the pond in formation, clustering around their mother and swimming in tight little circles. The onlookers assumed that the heron was eyeing the koi fish in the pond, but the mother duck felt otherwise, becoming more and more aggressive, quacking angrily. The ducks tried to swim away from the heron's eyes, but the heron stalked after them on its impossibly long legs, keeping exact pace, measuring them up.
Without a sound, the heron took to the air, hopping straight up, spreading its wings and flexing its neck. It looked ready to dive. The onlookers spontaneously shouted at it, like an eager audience at a children's theater: A young couple, who may or may not have been there on a date, shouted "NO!" in unison. An older man snapped, as if to a disobedient dog, "No, heron!" Someone else moaned "Go away!" Everyone had gathered to admire something adorable, but it seemed as though they were about to get a lesson in how casually brutal nature could be.
But then the mother duck sprang into action, flying at a bird three times its size and recklessly snapping at the heron's ankles. The heron made a few stabs at the mother duck with its beak and issued a puzzled sort of wobbling noise. Then it seemed to do some math and flew away, over the museum. The crowd spontaneously broke into applause for the mother duck, which then decided to puff out its chest and issue a few victorious quacks at the receding heron. (The urge to preen in victory, to announce "Yeah, you'd better run" to a fleeing opponent, it seems, is universal.) Within a matter of seconds, the ducklings had assumed their usual positions in the pond, with a few brave ones testing the perimeter again. The onlookers, having witnessed a perfect happy ending on a beautiful summer night, dispersed.