Irma Duck survived the hurricane. She isn’t a superhero. She’s simply… a local duck. But people love her.
Irma’s the best duck, and trust me, I know ducks.
I was part of a duck rescue four years ago, whereby I got to know George, a duckling who almost died when the chicks at Animal House pecked him until he bled. My friend — who shall remain nameless, because we live in Gulfport, where it’s illegal to own ducks — brought him home and raised him with her chickens. Big mistake. Huge. Not bringing him home — yay, rescue — but raising him with the hens. See, George imprinted on her chickens and, when he started to have certain, ahem, urges, he identified as a rooster, not a drake. This was, to put it mildly, awkward for everyone involved, most of all the hens (true story: ducks have ballistic penises, and that’s really something you can’t un-see. God knows I can’t…).
And then, at our neighborhood pond, we had Big Red (RIP). Big Red was a Muscovy duck who was sort of the mob boss of the pond, terrorizing all the other ducks. When he died, we were all sad, but truth be told, every other duck in the pond breathed a little easier.
So Irma is, by comparison, the very best duck. Plus, she has a pretty nifty story — and a larger Facebook fanbase than Localtopia, St. Petersburg’s annual beloved celebration of local everything. So, you know, she’s kind of a big deal.
She really is all she’s quacked up to be.
Joy Trent has a small home in Plant City, close to her job at the Hard Rock and also near her horses. The house, between two retention ponds, has its fair share of feathered and waddling wildlife, and Trent’s house is sort of on the wildlife highway between the ponds (think of it this way: If you’re flying from Tampa to Rome, you’re probs gonna have a stopover in Atlanta. Trent’s house is Atlanta, only better). One duck in particular stood out for her: a Muscovy.
Muscovy ducks don’t get the respect of a mallard, or a wood duck, or even a Pekin duck. They’re black and white with red, turkey-like business around their necks. But they’re also super cute.
“If you know Muscovy ducks then you know they are just big lawn puppies, but this one female, Irma, had the coolest personality. She would always stop to chat while she was passing through, or just sit in the shade on our porch or under the cars and hang out with us while we were doing yard work,” Trent says. “My boyfriend used to call her mama duck (even though she was not a mama, yet) and if we had some popcorn when we got back from the movies and he called mama duck she would waddle right over for a treat. She felt so comfortable in our yard she laid a nest of 13 eggs at the base of this huge live oak tree in our front yard.”
And then hurricane season came. And Mama Duck became Irma Duck.
“Every day we saw mama duck sitting on her nest and finally said, ‘What are you going to do, Irma Duck? This hurricane is coming!'” Trent says. She debated collecting the eggs and trying to catch Irma so she could keep her safe in the house throughout Hurricane Irma, even asking her co-workers at the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino Tampa for advice — after all, she’d never had a duck BFF before and had no idea what to do — and ultimately decided to let nature take its course.
Trent and her boyfriend spent most of the night awake, watching Mama-now-Irma Duck through their bathroom window. She never, Trent says, left her nest.
“We finally fell asleep and when we got up in the morning branches and Spanish moss was piled on Irma. We uncovered her, she was a little windblown, but still sitting tight on that nest,” Trent says. “What a brave girl she was.”
When Trent went back to work, her co-workers wanted to know if the duck — they’d started calling her “Irma” — had weathered the storm. She put Irma’s picture on Facebook, and also an explanation of the photo for her northern friends who don’t quite get how we do down here.
“I thought, ‘that will be the end of it’,” she says, “Well, the next thing you know this post has 500,000 views, I got 1,000 friend requests and 500 private messages. Radio stations and newspapers found out my cell number, and everyone wanted to know about Irma,” Trent says.
That’s when a Seminole Hard Rock & Casino Tampa co-worker encouraged her to create a Facebook page for Irma.
“She helped me set up Irma’s page and I followed up with some posts, [to] satisfy everyone’s curiosity and then be done with it. Well, here I am, a year and a half later and Irma has over 6,000 followers from all over the world. Every time I try to ease out of this I get messages from really sweet, nice, positive people wanting to know how Irma is doing,” Trent says.
So, it’s not all happy news: None of the original 13 eggs hatched — but it’s also possible they may not have been fertilized, either (chickens and ducks lay eggs whether or not they’ll grow into chickens, thus answering the age-old question yes, the eggs came first). It’s also possible, according to one of Trent’s newfound duck friends, that the dropping barometric pressure could have adversely impacted the eggs.
A few months later, Irma Duck laid 13 more eggs by Trent’s front porch, only to have those disappear one night. Trent’s security cameras show a fox making 13 trips to the nest and running away with 13 eggs.
“It even shows it running away as I came home from work at 4 a.m., and then coming back for the remaining eggs after I entered the house,” Trent says.
Irma Duck remained determined to become a mother, though, and a few months after that, she laid 15 eggs on Trent’s porch. When eight of those eggs disappeared, Trent and her boyfriend got serious.
“On advice from Muscovy people, I had my boyfriend pee around the nest every day,” she says, “and at night we kept a radio playing on talk news all night to scare any other predators away.”
Three of the eggs hatched and, more recently, she laid 13 eggs and 13 hatched, although some of the ducklings disappeared. Five ducklings, now almost as big as Irma Duck, hang out with their three older brothers and sisters, and they also stick pretty close to Irma Duck. All nine of them waddle up to Trent when they see her, knowing she’ll have a snack for them (corn and feed, not bread, which can actually inhibit duck wing growth, and now we feel bad for every duck we ever fed as a kid.)
She and her boyfriend travel, and she’ll post pictures of their travels, but mostly people are there for Irma Duck.
Trent has made friends with some of Irma’s fans, realizing they share many things.
“We have so much in common: horses, travel, and a love for ducks and all animals, [they’re] just really cool people,” she says. “[It] restores your faith in humanity because a lot of times I just hate people.” Work, she says, can be tough sometimes — unfortunately, not everyone who comes to a casino is in the best place, just like not everyone who goes anywhere is in the best place and, well, we can all understand how that can get to a person, right? But Irma’s fans help her feel better about the world.
“Hearing about animal abuse just kills my spirit,” she says, “but Irma’s fans are just such nice, positive people just looking to read some wholesome news about a duck.”
This post originally appeared at Creative Loafing.