This is the story of four lucky duckies, a tale of tragedy turned to triumph.

A pair of mallard ducks had visited a Linwood neighborhood for several years, enjoying the food and security people provided.

The ducks were named - inevitably - Donald and Daisy.

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They liked the backyard of Tom and Bonnie Lacovara, which has a large wildlife habitat garden around a 5,000-gallon pond and waterfall for koi.

Daisy would nest in the yard, and when the ducklings hatched, she found it convenient to have a personal pond protected by a tall stockade fence in which to teach her offspring to swim.

The Lacovaras were delighted to have the ducklings feast on small aquatic life in the pond, including tiny koi and tadpoles.

With a dozen big koi - some 23 years old and 2 feet long - the pond each spring produced big batches of koi eggs and small fry, more than could possibly be supported by local resources. Tom gives away about 70 of the growing koi each year.

And when Daisy was ready to introduce her ducklings to the back-bay marshes where they would spend their adult lives, Bonnie and Tom would lead them out the gate, through the neighborhood and streets to the safety of the reeds.

Sometimes the police would stop traffic on busy Route 9 for them, a level of service other Donalds and Daisys must envy.

But this year, Daisy's nest in a large hole 5 feet up in a big tree was raided by a raccoon while the Lacovaras weren't home. Daisy was killed, and six of the 10 eggs were eaten.

The remaining four eggs were cold by the time they were found, but the Lacovaras gave them a chance anyway, putting them in a chicken-egg incubator borrowed from the Jewish Community Center in Margate.

After checking on the eggs constantly for 10 days, they assumed the worst and gave up. Then after several more days, Bonnie looked and yelled for Tom - there were three ducklings and a fourth trying to break through its shell.

They named them, of course, Huey, Dewey and Louie, and Spinner for the fourth.

The ducklings got their own pen, their own mini-pond and a diet of koi eggs, tadpoles and tiny fish.

But instead of their late mom taking them to the koi pond, they followed the Lacovaras into their swimming pool for their introduction to the life aquatic.

The Lacovaras probably would have showed the ducklings around the back bay and marshes if they could. Instead, they delivered them to the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford, Burlington County, for professional duck training and release.

A happy ending, with one sad note: Donald, the dad, has returned a couple of times looking for Daisy.

E-mail Kevin Post:

If I know the Lacovaras, after a suitable period of grief, they will probably introduce him to some eligible female mallards.

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