Hard Candy – The Duck Snatcher

This column originally focused on Gulfport Councilwoman Christine Brown’s vision for the city marina and why I love it so much I want to sneak into its house and watch it sleep, but something shiny caught my attention over the past few days: ducks.

Every morning (and sometimes every evening, if I don’t have to cover a city meeting and I’m feeling ambitious), Calypso and I take a lap around Tomlinson Park. The first thing I noticed when moved to this neighborhood was that the place was lousy with ducks: Mallards, muscovy, white, marbled brown-and-white ducks, gallinules (which are barely ducks), cormorants (which are thieving saltwater ducks), and the odd anhinga (slightly more elegant – but just as thieving – saltwater ducks). If our neighborhood had a name like the trendier Gulfport neighborhoods, we’d probably call ourselves the “Historic Duck District” and we’d have providence on the duck lineage at the pond. The ducks would waddle around, looking smug and self-satisfied.

Although, honestly, the ducks already look pretty smug. I’ve never seen such cheeky ducks – every now and then they stumble over towards our yard, and they actually have the nerve to look annoyed when I walk past them. They rule the pond and the park, too. The one muscovy has a definite chip on his shoulder – Calypso walked too close once, and the duck spread his wings and puffed up his chest, as if to say, “Come at me, bro!”, and Calypso, remembering that she is a dachshund and this was clearly some sort of genetically-enhanced duck half the size of Rhode Island, backed away.

There’s something rotten in the historic duck district, though, and it’s all the conversation around the pond and fire pits.

A while back, Calypso and I were walking over the bridge at the pond when I noticed the two white ducks watching me with great suspicion. Since I’m not above the occasional crispy duck (Those white ducks are Pekin ducks, the same kind you get at the best Chinese restaurants), I didn’t blame them. But then I saw another, tinier, duck head peek out from under the back end of one of the ducks, and I realized they were just trying to protect their baby duck. Tasty or not, this little white ball of fluff utterly charmed me.

Soon I found myself talking to the ducks every morning, telling them not to worry when they saw us coming, that we wouldn’t hurt them. I photographed them. I started thinking getting a cleanup of the pond going, because plastic cups and bags and litter blows in every garbage day. I started to wonder if the city could install duck food machines (you know, you put a quarter in and you get a handful of duck food) on the bridge because bread really isn’t great for ducks. In short, I kind of fell in love with these tasty little creatures who left duck crap all over the sidewalk and quacked at me in annoyance.  

And then they disappeared.

Monday night, my neighbor Miki told me two of the ducks had vanished. I told her she was mistaken; they were there Saturday night, I was sure.

Tuesday morning on my walk, I made a point of looking for my threesome. I saw only the mama duck (I could always tell her from the other two because she doesn’t have full feathers on the back of her neck). No daddy duck, no baby duck. I passed a neighbor, who commented on the lack of white ducks and suggested that perhaps someone caught them and ate them. I passed a police officer, who already knew about what he deemed “the duck snatcher.”
“Maybe they migrated,” he offered hopefully. The problem with that? Pekin ducks have wings that make them look like they mated with a penguin.
One reader suggested that coyotes, not the local purveyor of Peking Duck, are behind the disappearance, pointing out that by feeding all these ducks, those of us who live in the Historic Duck District are just fattening the ducks for the feast. Of course, that doesn’t explain why all the other ducks escaped the coyotes and why the coyotes didn’t leave any feathers or blood.
Maybe the cop was right, maybe it really is hard to make a web-footed relationship work and he took the kid and moved over to Wood Ibis Park. I don’t know what happened. It just would seem that in Gulfport, of all places, we’d do a little better job of looking after wildlife.
Except we don’t. Apparently it’s not illegal to snatch a duck and kill it if it’s in the street. Our laws protecting the wildlife in the park end at the park’s borders.
I know they are wild animals and that just because they’re fluffy doesn’t make them any more deserving of life than, say, the roaches I make El Cap kill. It’s something more, though. We’re just close enough to the St. Pete side of 49th Street that we watch our bikes a little too closely and never leave our cars unlocked, but those are garden-variety thefts. They happen anywhere. We accept those, whether we should or not, as part of life. And I guess if I believed coyotes ate my ducks, I could accept that, too. I don’t have to like it, but circle of life, whatever. But the idea that somebody took them?

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.