For the past 23 years, Mark Knepp has been rescuing ducks and ducklings around Penn State’s campus. As an Office of Physical Plant (OPP) Area Facilities Maintenance Worker he typically covers general maintenance and classrooms, but whenever there’s a duck in need, he jumps into action to rescue them. Knepp lives by a “no duck left behind” code.
Late Monday evening around 8 p.m., someone called in the what had been the sound of ducklings in a storm drain at the corner of Shortlidge Road and College Avenue. University Park Police blocked off one of the sides of the road as Knepp and his partner Tracy Hurtack, who describes Knepp as their “duck whisperer,” began the rescue attempt. The mother duck and remaining ducklings were frantically running around them.
Rescuing ducks on campus has become routine for Knepp, so he knew exactly what he had to do. Over the last 23 years that he’s been with OPP, he estimates that he’s been on about 50 duck rescue calls and saved more than 100 ducks and ducklings. “I don’t mind rescuing the animals,” Knepp said. “I don’t like to see anything suffer.”
Knepp and his partner began by removing the metal grating over the drain. He then climbed down into the cavity with a flashlight while a bucket and cloth were lowered by rope into the storm drain. Using a duck sound from his iPhone, Knepp managed to corral two of the four ducklings and put them into the bucket and covered them with the cloth.
“Not up until the last couple of years I’ve had a phone with a duck sound on it, but it does work,” Knepp said. “It brings them back most of the time if they’re not far away, but it does work as silly as it sounds.”
He unrelentingly attempted to rescue the two remaining ducks, but they were too far down the drain to reach.
After several attempts and many iPhone quacks later, Knepp emerged from the drain with only two of the ducklings, but the mother and other ducklings were nowhere to be found. It was getting late and Knepp had to track her down and return the two saved ducklings, so he and Hurtack closed up the storm drain.
Walking west from Atherton Hall across campus, Knepp checked the usual places where he’d expect the mother to settle for the evening. He had a feeling that she would return to the duck pond by the Hintz Family Alumni Center. As we approached the duck pond, one could hear duck quacks in the distance and the ducklings in the bucket frantically called out to their mother.
Knepp’s instincts were right. He had found the mother duck at the pond. Knepp knelt down beside the pond and reunited the two ducklings with her. He assures people that he will return tomorrow to see if he can save the remaining ducklings but asks anyone walking near storm drains in the area of Shortlidge Road and College Avenue to keep their ears peeled for duckling quacks.
If people do hear quacks from storm drains, they are asked to call the University Park Police at (814) 863-1111. Knepp will surely respond.