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 when filled, find their way back.
I again saw proof of this Home Instinct a week or two ago, as three Mallard Ducks came and sat stoically where . . . easily twenty-five years ago . . . three of their ancestors had been born and bred. My heart went out to them and their loyalty, but beautiful as they are, I wished them well and then ignored them. Well, my sons would have loved a ‘duck dinner’, but in this neighborhood, the time one can get away with such shenanigans, is long gone.
My story 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 watch them during the day .
All went well and within days I was feeding both Mama and Papa Ducks and their five Goslings. Soon the ducklings began losing their Down and getting real feathers and it was fun to watch. 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 w hich 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. In quantity.
I explained to ‘my’ demanding ducks that there was a pond right down in the field and not more than five seconds flight away, and where they would have both water and natural food, but t hey 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 then I found the dang ducks were actually eating the ROOTS of my lawn and I had 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 spots and 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 have to stop feeding them and force them to look elsewhere for food. 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, 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, but, after a month or so, I watched them as they paused, first at my Closed Shop, before winging over the hill and to 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 scores of years have passed since I gave food to their fore bearers, 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.