They came home for a while, but now live somewhere else . . .
Everything that’s physically mobile has a built-in homing instinct. Ocean fish, whales, etc. travel thousands of miles on annual treks; butterflies from the tropics to their second northern homes; the swallows of Capistrano; ants, (the dang things) travel yards and yards, in single file, from their basic ‘home’ to wherever they sense food, and yet find their way back.
I again saw proof of this Home Instinct this year as three Mallard Ducks came and sat stoically where easily twenty years ago their ancestors had been born and fed. My heart went out to them and their loyalty, but beautiful as they are, I wished them well and ignored them. Well, I thought of having a Duck dinner, but that time, in this neighborhood, is long gone.
It all began years ago, when I noticed that a Mallard hen had built a nest, close to my basement outer wall, hidden and protected in the midst of my bushes. I watched her, and her visiting mate, with interest, and in a week or two there were fluffy baby goslings in my yard, and in response to their peeping and how sweet they were, I began giving them food, and chose a spot of lawn where I could see them during the day.
All went well, and within days I was feeding both Mama and Papa Duck and their five goslings. Then the five ducklings began losing their Down and getting feathers and it was fun to watch. And, swiftly, it seemed, I had the parents and five beautiful teenagers and then, almost suddenly, it seemed, there were seven ducks coming and staring expectantly at my door and gobbling up every crumb of food I put out. And I had to take a ‘second look’ to see which were the kids and which the parents.
Fun, and by then I’d found a shop in the old Cottonwood Mall that catered to food and the care of all genre of pets we bring to our homes, and I became a familiar customer, for seven ducks eat food, and I mean FOOD. I explained to ‘my’ demanding ducks that there was a pond right down in the pasture, (now the Golf Course) not more than a five second flight away, and where they would have both water and natural food, but they didn’t hear me.
So, I cut down on the amount of food given them, and they began digging in the lawn. I smiled, thinking they were getting worms and bugs, and when they had eaten all of them, the ducks would turn to the nearby pond. But I then found the dang ducks were actually eating the ROOTS of my lawn and there was about a 12 foot patch that was quickly becoming NOT lawn, but plain bare ground. And they were pushing back the edges each day.
In desperation, and torn between love of those sweet ducklings they once had been, and anger at the predators they’d become, I asked the fellow at the Pet Food Mart what I was to do.
He laughed at my bewilderment, but then stopped chuckling long enough to tell me I had to simply stop feeding them. He reminded me of all the signs around ponds, picnic spotsand in every Park that say, “DON’T FEED THE DUCKS”. And then, he stopped laughing, got serious and told me that unless I planned on my back lawn becoming nothing but a Duck Restaurant and Rest Room, I’d had to stop feeding them and force them to eat elsewhere. They, he assured me, would not starve.
He grinned as he assured me he’d be glad to keep selling me feed, but sooner or later, it would be either the Duck’s back yard or mine. Really, he said, it boils right down to those choices. Their yard or Ethel’s.
Well, I decided I wanted to use my lawn, and so, abruptly I stopped feeding them, and they didn’t die, but they didn’t like it, either, and let me know with their squawking. It was a slow business, and their transfer of Feeding Stations did not come about without lots of protest, and, after a month or so, I watched them as they paused first at my Closed Shop, before winging over the hill and onto the Pond for nourishment.
But that’s not the end of my tale. For the funny part, is that every Spring, Mallard Ducks come to my lawn and sit and wait right in the exact spot their ancestors had landed and waited.
They know where home base is and though a few scores of years have passed since I gave food to their forebearers, they still return. Loyal as all get out, and though I hate to put a stop to their built-in instincts, I have to keep reminding myself that my purpose here on earth is not to feed generations of Mallards.
This year, for a couple of weeks, they hung around each morning for at least two hours before flying off to get their breakfast. But their instinct was true, and they were returning to their home and where every bone in their bodies told them there should be food. It hasn’t worked for a long, long time, but instinct still tells them otherwise. That here, my back yard is still the point of their beginnings.
I know what would have happened a generation or so ago. My husband would have brought out one of his Shot Guns, probably just a 12 gauge one, and the Bradfords on east 4800 South, would have had Roast Duck for dinner. It would have been good, too, for a lot of fancy Duck Food had gone through their Craws.