Thursday, June 15, 2006

70. Feathered friends add joy

My wife affectionately named them the Smiths, after the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." They have no resemblance to the characters in the movie; actually, their relationship better resembles "Romeo and Juliet." Romantically, this pair of Mallard Ducks have been visiting us regularly now for over two years.

Mallard Ducks are the most popular duck in the world, and they usually stay together in flocks. They are omnivorous, adapting and enjoying a diverse diet- both "dabbling" at the water surface and eating a wide variety of seeds. Males and females form monogamous relationships in the autumn and separate after reproducing the following spring.

The Smiths arrive both in the morning and late afternoon for their daily meals; usually one eats while the other attentively watches for our pack of dogs and other predatory threats. Not only do we see them in our backyard, we see them down the road at another feeder and we often see them flying back and forth between the two. For two years, nearly every time we have seen one, we have seen the other. In true anthropomorphic fashion, they really seem to care about one another; there seems to be an aurora around them and a sense of sincerity in their relationship. In fact, I could have sworn that I heard the male whisper Shakespeare to her one evening:

"Did my heart love till now?
Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty
till this night!"

It is often the same routine; they land in the neighbor's yard and carefully and cautiously walk about 50 feet to our feeders. During this short, habitual journey, they are assiduously watching for our dogs. We usually look for the Smiths before letting the dogs out, but occasionally they escape our view. The getaway plan includes jumping into the neighbor's pool or an immediate take off.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was driving down a side road not so far out of the path the Smiths usually take. Lying dead in the road was a male Mallard. My heart sank, for I immediately thought of Mr. Smith. Beyond the fact that I do not know how someone could hit a very slow moving, bright and colorful duck on a 25 mile per hour road, I wondered what Mrs. Smith would do without Mr. Smith.

My fears were relieved, at least for the Smiths, as later the next evening they arrived for dinner on schedule. Their pattern and charm has almost made them part of the family. Mallards live up to twenty years, though due to human influence and predation most only survive a couple of years. When this pair leaves us, whether it is because they rejoin a flock, the male instinctively fly off with his male counterparts or, worst case scenario, they are tragically harmed- it will truly be a somber moment.

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