Saturday, April 11, 2009
How long does it take to train a duck or goose? Not long—at least not when free eats are involved. For upwards of a month, I’ve been feeding a pair each of Canada geese and mallard ducks. Once or twice a day, I scatter a scoop of cracked corn along the top of the riverbank. My waterfowl quartet soon appear and take advantage, shouldering aside the doves and squirrels whom they see as uninvited interlopers. Mind you, these are not semi-tame citified birds, golf-course residents, or picnic area and park pond habitués, comfortably accustomed to people. Instead, they are wild born and raised right here along the river, intolerant of even the occasional summer fisherman or canoeist. Let them see so much as a movement inside the cottage and off they go, protesting loudly and flapping for all they’re worth. At least they were before I began my handouts. Now they tolerate me, and to a lesser degree, Moon. Anyone else and it’s a mad escape scramble, just like always. So they haven’t lost their fear of humans, just of one human. Which isn’t to say I can act too loud, too animated, too threatening around them. No shouting; no eye contact; no waving of arms. Unless the hand is holding the corn scoop—then I can give the feed a toss, nod their way, and tell them to “come and get it.” That’s okay. So they’ve learned to recognize me, learned I’m the source of their corn, and aren’t frightened by the act of tossing the corn out or motioning and telling them to come eat. But they’ve also learned to take turns, and worked out a schedule. Before nesting time, the birds began by appearing together—one pair or the other arriving first, to soon be followed by whichever pair remained. Now the goose and hen are on their nests. The drake and gander apparently aren’t into communal dining. Oddly, it’s the duck that eats first—within minutes after I toss out the corn in the morning. The goose might be paddling around the pool in front of the cottage, but he doesn’t come up until the duck has finished. When the duck departs, the gander takes his turn. The schedule is fairly rigid, too. Breakfast not too long after daylight, and supper a half-hour or so before dusk. In between, the midday hours are a catch-as-catch can potluck. One or the other—duck or goose—is apt to be waddling about looking for leftovers, but only one at a time. Should I be a little late in putting food out, especially in the morning, I’m soon reminded by regular bouts of quacks and honks, an impatient cacophony of loud, aggrieved reminders regarding my overlooked hospitality. More or less the same thing happens should I be caught sitting on my deck when feeding time rolls around—even if the food is already scattered. What they’re chewing me out about then is my not giving them their privacy. Eating alone means I’m not allowed, either. Just the other evening, the goose sat on the water ten feet out from shore, giving me the evil eye and bleating like a dump truck until I realized he wanted me to move elsewhere. Unwelcome on my own deck…the hand that feeds ‘em. Such audacity! Still, I’m impressed by how quickly they’ve learned, the way they’ve worked things out between them, their degree of discernment, and their cheeky behavior. Goofy as a goose? Dumb as a duck? Quite the contrary! That’s simply stupid as a simile.