Having spent the first half of my life on the lower east side (roughly) of Manhattan, every aspect of the natural world seemed rare and precious. Bert from Sesame Street and I have a lot in common. I thought the Pigeons were quite beautiful, the spectacle of their flocks twisting in the sky or the twirl dance of the male as he woos his hen. I never encountered a duck in person but the image of the duck was an archetype of elegance seen on carved umbrella handles or as a motif printed on the lining fabric of the finest raincoats at Abercrombie & Fitch, once the most elegant shop on Fulton street.Now I live in splendid suburban sprawl and I watch where I put my feet because everything’s bite is worse than a pigeon’s. The Mallard couple that winter here are among the less frightening species that visit my yard. They are not shy and made it clear to me early on that they would accept gratuities. They adapted quickly to take advantage of the birdseed I put out.
Real ducks are every bit as beautiful as in paintings and prints and I have been completely charmed by them. However there are some aspects of them I have been surprised by. Some of the dignity is lost when they are running straight at you. They wobble a lot and trip often. I have seen several end-over face plants. They are prone to stepping on your feet and bumping into your pant leg daubing you with pond scum that accumulates on their breast as they push through the water.
If you give them something they do not like you are liable to get a very un-ducklike ‘gaak’ sound complete with a wagging tongue as they let the offending food drop out if their mouth. I got that reaction to a raisin. They are funny when they get mad too. If she is approached by an Ibis or a Moorhen when she is trying to hold my attention the female mallard is prone to puffing up, head down and emitting a loud hiss! Another sound I did not know a duck could make.