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Dancing Mallards

Today I went for a walk to the riverside park to watch ducks dabble, wiggling their butts in the air. Today’s air was remarkably warm: it was almost 60 degrees here and sunny, the perfect day for a dog walk.

The ducks were feeling feisty in the sun. One male mallard and his lady were being tailed (ha!) by a bachelor. Mr. Mallard was not having it. He’d wait until the bachelor got daringly close – then turn on him, lower his head, stretch out his body, and give chase. Well, by “give chase” I mean he swam at the bachelor at a mildly faster clip then he’d been perusing for food. It’s not as though duck chases are like the kind you see on the Serengeti. After the bachelor got away, the two performed a comical mirroring of each other’s manly display: one duck shook his head; the other did too. One duck waggled his tail feathers; the other did so too. One duck stood up tall and flapped his wings; the other did too. The dance was followed by a few more head shakes and butt waggles before they went back to ignoring each other. Bachelor stayed close.

Off in the distance, a whole flock of ducks were performing the same antics, although there was a great deal more tussling since the crowd was large. The girls looked non-plussed; perhaps even approving of all the attention and momentary chaos. As I watched the ducks chasing each other, heads down like  bikers trying to win a race, I realized that displays like these, like those of most other animals, are harmless shows of bravado. No animal truly wants to come to blows. But what if they did? Ducks have blunt bills and entirely silly feet. They certainly can’t grab at anything with their wings, and although they have pointy little teeth, they also have a nice thick coating of oiled feathers. I do know from working with raptors that the wrist joint (in human terms) of the wing is pretty powerful; maybe they’d swing at each other with those. I think I’ve seen them trying to stand on each other awkwardly while afloat when the dancing doesn’t work.

I love the ducks. There’s a bench that I sit on to watch them and even in small moments you can see a great deal of the “wild kingdom” in their interactions with each other. Sunka sits on the bench next to me, but facing backwards; he knows that in the towering pines of the park there are many tiny tree monkeys just waiting to antagonize him. I watch the ducks, he watches for squirrels. People give me big toothy grins as they walk by, seeing him seated so politely next to me on the bench, ears up.

After the ducks, we walk to a small grocer and I give in to the months-long craving I’ve had for fried chicken. And potato wedges. Those, and the latte I’ve already had are counteracted entirely by my outing to the gym this morning. No, for real.

Sunka gets a potato wedge and one tiny hunk of fried chicken, and his day is made ten times over.

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