Jailbirds set free from Suffolk County jail in Riverside

It was a clean break from the Riverhead Correctional Facility for these fluffy jailbirds. 

For the past three years, the same female duck has come to a courtyard at the jail in Riverside to lay her eggs. The eggs laid by the mother duck, who has been nicknamed “Thelma,” hatched around June 1 near a fish pond in the courtyard. 

The 15 ducklings have been taken care of and fed a regular diet of cornmeal by staff member Dixie Gunter, the jail’s proclaimed “resident duck expert.”

“When there’s an animal problem they call me,” Ms. Gunter said. “I deal with animals at my house — and I love her, she’s a good mama.” 

Because the walls enclosing the jail’s courtyard are too high to fly over for the young birds, the mother and her four-week-old ducklings were rounded up Tuesday, placed in boxes and taken in a sheriff’s vehicle to an area near the Peconic River to be released.

“We anticipate she’ll be back next year,” Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon said. “I think it’s just a nice little diversion for the staff here in our jail … in a stressful environment like this.”

Ms. Gunter and Sheriff Toulon said the jail’s staff will be looking forward to Thelma’s return next year. “I’m sad when the ducks leave,” Ms. Gunter said.

“This is probably the only time we’re going to let anyone go free from our jail,” Sheriff Toulon joked.