Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Birds of a Feather Quacked Together

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Birds of a Feather Quacked Together

Article excerpt

Of course we had to keep the ducklings. They were a joint birthday present to our two older children from their much-admired Uncle Jim. Barring unforeseen events, we knew the ducks would be with us for a long time. What we didn't count on were the mockingbirds.

Shortly before the arrival of the ducklings, a family of mockingbirds had taken up residence in the fig trees in a corner of our backyard. These charming mimics could, when they chose, sing as sweetly as nightingales. They sometimes regaled us with melodies fit for a Chinese emperor. But at other times they imitated less-musical sounds: the cry of our neighbors' new baby; the whiny meow of our Siamese; the staccato bark of our dog; and now, the noise of our children's pet ducks.

They were given the names of Snap and Quack. The dog and cat were sternly warned away from the fluffy infants. An old galvanized washtub, long out of use, was pulled down from the garage, sunken into the ground, and filled with water. The kids climbed into the tub to help the ducks learn how to swim. "Swim, Snappy, swim!" Tom urged, gliding the astonished Snap through the water. "Faster, faster!" Wendy insisted, swamping poor Quack in a bid to outrace her brother's entry. In no time at all, Snap and Quack became accomplished swimmers. The new pets were given the free run of the garden. Soon they were toddling about on their rubbery orange feet, happily snapping at invisible insects and tiny snails. Their infant "peeps" were quickly picked up by the mockingbirds. "Isn't it darling, Mama, the way those birds sound just like Snap and Quack?" Wendy asked. "Oh, are those the mockingbirds?" I looked around, surprised. "I thought that was still the ducklings. Hm-m-m. Yes, it's just darling." We put the duck pond in the only available spot in our small backyard, beneath our bedroom window. My husband fenced this area with chicken wire. Every night, Snap and Quack were lifted into this enclosure for their protection. Every morning, one of the children would take the fledglings out of their pen. In short order, their baby fluff began to turn into real feathers. Before we knew it, they were full-sized ducks, eating constantly. We began to find a few flaws in duck-keeping. "They aren't the cleanest pets in the world," Joe said as we watched them trail around the yard after their big breakfast of feed-store grain. "No, but they do keep down the snails." I was trying to look on the brighter side. "And the kids enjoy them so." Our neighborhood was one that tolerated a certain number of small-farm-type animals. We all had young children, and youngsters seemed to accumulate pets. Rabbits, chicks, and other ducklings lived near us. However, our houses were close together, and our bedroom window faced a neighbor's. We began to worry about the early morning flurry of quacks issuing from our duck pen. …

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