Ever since I moved into this house, some 23 years ago, I have fed the outdoor birds.The first few years were lean in terms of avian visitors. As the trees grew, so did my bird population. And then came the ducks…a flock of them, sometimes numbering in the thirties. Morning and night, with a few stragglers in-between. My kids loved them. Somehow their presence elevated the status of our house from mere ‘typical suburban box’ to offbeat, quirky enclave of individuality. And I, as the proprietor in charge, became almost cool. Our house became the talk of the neighborhood. Parents with young toddlers came to watch the daily spectacle of ducks in the yard, ducks under the deck, ducks on the roof, ducks crash-landing into the yard.
Gill used to warn me that someday the ducks would come onto the deck and start kicking the door down, demanding more or better food. Well, Gill, you were prescient. The other day it happened. As I tiptoed my way through the ice patches and shells of sunflower seeds on the deck, what did I see but duck footprints? This led to all sorts of speculation. How did the duck get there…did it fly up from the yard, down from the roof, or walk up the steps? Had it been looking for the door, wanting to find refuge from the cold in my family room, perhaps watch a nice sitcom?
The mystery was solved the next day when I chanced to peek out on the deck. A female duck was under the barbecue, eating random seed that had fallen from the bird feeder on the deck rail overhead. First of all, the proportions were all wrong. I’m accustomed to seeing sparrows, cardinals, perhaps the odd dove. But a duck is a large, clumsy bird. I also noted the fact that, while she had this spot all to herself, the rest of the flock, the ‘rowdy plebs’ if you will, were bunched together in the yard, angrily pushing and jousting with each other to get their fair share. Was the deck duck superior in intelligence, antisocial, or had she merely crashed onto the deck, missing her target on the lawn? So many possibilities…
“See, Ma? I warned you that would happen. The ducks are going to be pounding on the door soon, demanding more food. They’re like an ugly band of protesters, picketing for better working conditions.”
“Well, I have been cutting back on their rations a bit. I spend more on their food in a week than mine…if you exclude the wine and chocolate allowances.”
“There’s your problem, then. They want the chocolate…”
“They get the very best quality seed the grocery store carries. Maybe they’re bitter that I no longer buy it from the seed mill. It did seem a bit circular — driving all the way to the country to buy cracked corn and bring it here to the city…when the ducks could just have stayed in the country and eaten straight from the field. Even I had to admit that was a bit much.”
“Really, Ma? You? Too much?”
“I’ll forget you said that. The cracked corn was the best thing for the ducks, nutritionally speaking, but everyone’s doing a bit of belt-tightening these days. If you’re essentially getting free food from the Food Bank, you can’t be too picky I suppose.”
“Yes, corn-fed ducks…reminds me of lunch. Fancy something in a nice pressed duck, Ma? Or maybe a Peking duck?”
“Wash your mouth out! How can you even think of that? Although there is one female with a gimpy leg that doesn’t move too quickly…”
“Ma! I know you didn’t mean that. You love those ducks. If you ever sell your house, you’ll have to put in a binding clause that the new owners will continue feeding them.”
“A clause like that certainly would elevate my house from the ordinary! Maybe give that extra little bit of cache that would start a bidding war…you know, ‘house in exclusive area features its own bird sanctuary and nature preserve. Oh, and if you run fast enough to catch the gimpy duck, a petting zoo or gourmet lunch…I’d buy it!”
“Ma, you DID. And therein lies the problem…”