January 27, 2022

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Watch now: How a Normal family gained a devoted duckling follower | Pets

Kaden Smith, 7, has become the adopted father of a wild duck.

NORMAL — On a dewy Sunday morning in July, a spot of sunshine waddled into the backyard of a family on Linden Street, finding a new “flock” in a puppy, her boy, and a father.

While surveying his yard with a cup of coffee in his hand on July 19, Keith Smith noticed his 6-month-old shih tzu puppy preoccupied with a little ball of fuzz no bigger than his shoe.  

Between the barking and commotion, Smith realized that the dog, Lilly, had found a baby duckling nestled between the blades of grass, just a few feet from his back porch.

“He had no parents,” said Smith, 57, said in a recent interview with The Pantagraph. “We don’t know where he came from or how he got here.” 

Smith ran inside to show his 7-year-old son what he’d found.

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Kaden Smith, 7, and his father, Keith, take care of Lemon Drop, a wild duck that showed up in their Normal backyard just days after it hatched. They are protecting it from predators in the area, with the hope it will fly away eventually. 

Right away, the second-grader knew the family had to do something. There are too many animals in their little wooded area behind their house. The duckling, long separated from its family, could easily get hurt or worse.

After contacting an animal rescue, the family decided to take “Lemon Drop” — named for his bright yellow baby feathers — to Sugar Creek, which runs behind their house. 

But after playing in the water, Lemon Drop decided he had found a new flock.

When Lilly, Kaden and Keith began their trek home, the duckling hopped out of the creek and followed the trio all the way back to their yard.

“Kaden and I became mommy and daddy immediately,” Smith said. “That’s just how ducks are. No matter what we did, he followed us.”

Unable to release Lemon Drop into the wild and worried about the other animals roaming the area at night (foxes, opossums and raccoons, oh my!), Kaden decided it was best if the family took care of their new duckling. 

Lemon Drop can leave whenever he wants, or whenever he is big enough to fly away on his own.

Kaden Smith holds Lemon Drop after the duck showed up in his backyard in Normal. The wild duck follows Kaden and his father, Keith, everywhere.

“I think it was the right choice because — this is a little bit scary — but one time me and my friend were going down there and we found a cut off dead opossum’s head, so that’s why I’m afraid to let him go,” Kaden said.

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Now Lemon Drop spends his days running around the yard with Kaden and Lilly, the puppy. Between spinning in circles and playing hide-and-seek between trees and sheds, it’s enough to wear out even a bystander.

Every day when Keith Smith returns from work, Lemon Drop follows Kaden, Lilly and Smith to Sugar Creek for a dip in the water. Two weekends ago the family took a trip to White Oak Lake.

“He got out in the water and swam around a little bit,” Smith said. “He dived deep a couple times and looked as some ducks that were about 25 feet away, and of course it’s the first time he’s seen another duck.”

Kaden Smith looks back at Lemon Drop as his father, Keith, and dog, Lilly, walk across their backyard in Normal. The wild duck follows them everywhere.

When it was time to go home, Lemon Drop “jumped out of the water and followed us back to the car,” he said.

It’s not the first time Kaden and Keith have opened their door and rescued an animal. 

While sitting outside on the front porch one day in March 2020, Smith and Kaden were approached by a young man driving up and down the street. 

Returning to his hometown in Florida after Illinois State University closed its housing, the student, who said he was a football player, was desperately trying to rehome his two bearded dragons.

“He said, ‘I thought I could take these back to a pet store and they’d take them, they won’t, I’m leaving today and I don’t know what to do,'” Smith said. “He was literally driving down the street looking for somebody. It was a nice day and we just happened to be sitting on the porch.” 

The family took in one of the animals. “I thought if we couldn’t keep it, I would put in on Facebook and try and find a good home for it,” Smith said. “Well, good ol’ Joe is still in the house.” 

Lemon Drop the duck and Lilly the puppy play together in the backyard of Kaden Smith, 7, Normal. 

When asked what he thought of the little animal shelter his family created, Kaden said he thought it was pretty cool. After all, when he grows up he’d like to run a pet store. Or become a veterinarian, he said.

Just barely 2 months old, Lemon Drop is starting to grow in his adult feathers. His yellow fuzz is gone, replaced by warm brown and black spots. Under his wings are a bright teal, which Smith said could mean he’s a blue-winged teal duck.

Eventually, the hope is for Lemon Drop to become old enough to venture off on his own. (Kaden would prefer that not happen; he and Lilly would like to keep their playmate.)

“I don’t think it’s sad if he leaves; I think it’s a good thing,” Smith said. “It means we got him past being eaten by the other animals to where he can take care of himself.

“He got lucky to stop by the right spot at the right time for us to find him.”

Contact Sierra Henry at 309-820-3234. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_sierrahenry.

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