Bird Brain

Posted in Advice on May 24th, 2003 by pottymouth

Dear Potty Mouth,

I live near Central Park, up by the northern part of it, in New York City. I go walking there with my dog just about every day, and have noticed there a very strange thing: there is a society of mallard ducks which live in the pond I often walk by, and I noticed a while ago that in the midst of the mallards is a duck which is definitely not of their kind. Unlike the small green and brown mallards, this duck is quite large, and it’s white. Despite obvious racial differences, this non-mallard duck clearly lives among and with the mallards; it swims where they swim, eats where they eat, sleeps where they sleep, etc. I always thought birds of a feather flocked together. What gives?


Bird Brain

Dear Bird Brain,

On initial reading I gleaned that you must live near me, at the upper reaches of the park, where the neighborhoods are racially and ethnically diverse, mainly Dominican families with an increasing number of dog owners who are young professional people. My first instinct, then, was to see if you were male and single and wanted to get married, but then my second instinct was to wonder whether the birds had learned something about tolerance and diversity from us, the humans, or whether it was the other way around. In pursuit of the truth of the matter, I did some searching around on the web for information about duck behavior, but found close to nothing. On one birding site which was interesting if not on point, I found the e-mail address of a married couple of ornithologists named Dick and Jean Hoffman, and asked them what they thought. This is what I got as an answer: “The bird in question is probably a domestic duck. We’ve seen many domestic ducks hanging around with Mallards. The Mallards don’t mind and, in fact, will interbreed with the domestic ducks, making for some weird looking combinations.” I took this answer to mean that Mallards are a tolerant and open society, much more so than the people in our diverse neighborhood, since though we of many races and ethnicities live side by side, we hardly ever mix genetically, if you know what I mean. Then I remembered that I haven’t seen any weird looking ducks in the bunch, either, and it brought me back to a question I haven’t yet pondered in print, that being the question of whether a neighborhood is really diverse if the people and ducks live with a great deal of physical proximity but don’t really live together, you know? I couldn’t find an answer to that question on the internet, and Dick and Jean Hoffman seemed remiss to comment, so for now, we’re going to give it a qualified ‘perhaps’.

Yours sincerely,

Potty Mouth

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