April 30, 2000
Fudk a Dudk


Scene from my morning:

"The ducks are fighting again," I blearily inform David.

I have risen from my sickbed just long enough to swallow another Keflex, gargle, pee, chug down eight ounces of Tropicana Pure Premium and check my e-mail. From my seat at the computer, I can hear the ducks beginning to rumble again in the courtyard outside.

For the past four days, this has been the background Muzak of my convalescence: a big stoopid gang of ducks attempting to kill each other totally dead outside our dining room window.

Ducks are nothing new around this apartment complex. You see them everywhere: nondescript brownish-gray female ducks, mostly, parked on the stairwells. Poking around in the bushes. Standing under the patio furniture. Pooping on the hibachi. Earlier this week, however, Mrs. Duck suddenly appeared in the swimming pool ... with twelve brand-new baby ducklings paddling along behind her.

Also new to the entourage: three enormous male ducks. One of them -- clearly the Proud Papa -- stands at the edge of the swimming pool most of the time, keeping a watchful eye on his brood, grooming himself a lot, and revelling in his vast reserves of duck studliness.

The other two, as far as I can tell, are simply there as back-up. The Potsie and Ralph Malph, if you will, of this particular duck community.

Until recently they've always seemed to get along fine. No ruffled feathers, figuratively or literally. But lately, two or three times a day  --  usually when I am just beginning to drift off to sleep again  --  another noisy explosive Duck War starts up. It begins at the far end of the swimming pool and gradually moves closer and closer to our apartment, as the ducks waddle around the courtyard in a big group, biting and pecking and swiping at each other.

I peer around the curtains. "Here they come," I tell him. "Now's your chance."  

David flies out of the apartment, camera in hand. We've been trying to get some decent "duckling pictures" (for our respective websites) all week. This seems like the perfect opportunity to shoot the babies -- so to speak -- while the adults are busy acting like babies. (And while he's at it, maybe David can talk a little sense into them. Maybe give them one of his patented "This isn't a competition" speeches, all about fair play, and showing consideration for others, and making the effort to get along. Or maybe he can just kick a little noisy duck butt.)

A moment or two later, David returns. He hasn't taken any pictures, but the cacaphony has blessedly stopped. 

"Everybody OK out there?" I ask. No loss of blood or feathers?

He looks at me with a peculiar expression. "They weren't fighting, Honey," he says. "They were ... uhh ... attempting to mate."



[Flashback to nine-year-old Secra, standing in front of her bedroom window. "Why aren't you ready for school yet?" asks Grandma, to which Secra innocently replies "I'm watching the birds dance."]

So OK. I didn't actually know that ducks procreate in this fashion. Or if I knew, I'd forgotten. It's been a lot of years since Biology Class. I had a sort of garbled idea that the male duck fertilizes the female eggs after the fact ... ifyouknowwhatImean. Like fish. Or sea urchins.

(Or David Crosby.)

But now I know. And the fact is that knowing the truth about the duck's mating habits actually raises MORE questions, for me, than it answers. Such as ...

Question #1:

If Mrs. Duck already has her poor overworked *hands* full (figuratively speaking, of course) with twelve offspring, why the hell are the male ducks still chasing her around the courtyard? Why can't they leave the poor woman alone?

David shrugs. "Because they're GUYS," he says ... as if that explains it all.

(Which, of course, it does. Perfectly.)

And Question #2:

Why does it take three male ducks to ... uhh ... "romance" one poor female duck?

David lives for questions like this. He spins off into a complex lecture on the basic principle of Darwinism, and how differential reproductive success drives evolution, and how the bigger, stronger males indulge in ritual displays or combat to the reproductive benefit of the lesser male.


"It's 'The Sneaky Fucker Strategy,'" he says. "While the two big, buff ducks are flexing their muscles at each other, the female duck sneaks around the corner and does it with the little nerdy duck."

Ohhhhhh. Now that's the sort of biology lesson I can probably retain for longer than thirty seconds or so.

Where was David in 1973 when I needed him?

throw a rock