This rainy / icy morning at dawn I made my customary bread delivery to 15 mallards and one, white, domestic duck. I’ve been hoping for weeks that it would wing away, perhaps, south along the Connecticut River where many wild ducks spend the winter when their favorite ponds have frozen over.
The Van Horn Park pond has been freezing and thawing with the fluctuating temperatures. I’ve been worried that with the wild bred out of it, this duck may not feel the imperative to get out Dodge before winter sets in. The mallards have been treating him (or her) like one of their own, so I keep telling myself, when the group goes, this big, snowy oddball will go with them.
A couple of weeks ago, freezing temperatures persisted over a few days, and one morning, I found ice from shore to shore, – no open water and no ducks. However, I spied something white, across the pond, under a fallen tree. It took me about 20 minutes to make the hike around. I anticipated finding a plastic bag, a drink container, or a pail (common types of refuse I clean out of here), – but, as you likely anticipated, – the white thing was the duck. It hunkered alone, on the ice beneath the arching birch.
I clumsily picked my way through brush at the water’s edge until close enough to peg bits of bread to him. Recognizing food sliding along the ice, the duck slipped and struggled to get at it. That was painful enough to watch, but then I realized the duck needed water to swallow the stuff. I found a stout stick and punched holes through to expose liquid at a few places along the shore, however, the duck was going to have to get to the drink on its own, – the thin ice prevented me from getting nearer.
I didn’t know if I helped at all and didn’t know what else I could do. I came home feeling pretty awful about that duck’s chances. My daughter left a message with the animal control folks, thinking they might have advice. No one called back.
The next morning was warmer. I found the white duck near the bridge, with four mallard pals. As I broke up pieces of soft bread for them, I felt my hope return. This guy may emulate his friends, and live to see spring yet.
Since that day, the pond has frozen and thawed again. The number of wild ducks surged to 20 last week, and is currently holding at 15 mallards, and – one white, domestic duck.