Let’s face it, we all have our favourites. Mine happen to be ducks. A childish enthusiasm grips me every time I see one, no matter what colour, size or quack.
I mean, if there were no hunters on the planet, how cool would it be to be a duck? You soar the sky, master the water and … wobble the land. You can bask in the sun and rest in the rain, and still be happy. Top that with amazing features, like mesmerising feathers (for both boys and girls), a grid- type structure to filter water while snacking, and palmed feet. Unbeatable!
So it’s always a pleasure when I visit Banteer Pond in Co. Cork, Ireland. I can spend hours and not feel the time pass. If fairies existed, they would hang around there.
I joined the gang on a crispy Saturday morning and then again later in the afternoon. Love was in the air, with the boys showing off flight displays, fitness and resounding calls. The girls swam graciously pretending to mind their own business. Two geese turned out to be a welcome addition to the group, although one of them was quite ‘bossy’. The moorhens dotted the air with their soft clacking from under the vegetation. A bird’s haven.
Smaller specimen were unafraid of catching up with them when food was offered. I had bought specific duck and swan food, which was gobbled down and ordered multiple times during my visit. They all enjoyed it both on the ground and in the water. It has become common knowledge that bread is not the best food for ducks (or in fact for any other bird). Bread fills you up but lacks relevant nutrients. With time it can even cause damage to the wings, making the ducks unable to take flight and migrate (this condition is called ‘angel wing’). I found the food at a pet store and it’s quite cheap, actually the same price of a loaf of bread!
Because Banteer Pond is all about protecting wildlife, the birds have had time to study human behaviour. As soon as they hear a car door slam, a very specific call is sent out to the whole group, and in a split second a feathered assembly reaches the gate, welcoming the new bipeds and, of course, requesting treats. Here I should add that this is done quite politely, as if they knew that misbehaving won’t bring the humans back. As I offered food, more was ordered by the geese, who walked nearer, tilted their heads and tuned two soft-spoken quacks. How could you say no to that?
It was a busy day under changeable weather. After feeding, swimming, flying, chasing, preening and chatting, it was time for a well-deserved nap. That’s when I sat among them. The first rule to be around wildlife is to respect their space – it’s a matter of safety, but above all, it’s consideration for the animals. We can be an invasive species, it’s in our nature to be explorers, and the temptation to get closer and closer is huge, but that’s not how nature works. With that in mind, I sat with them after making sure that nothing about me would disturb their rest. I sat there quietly, breathing slow and smiling for the privilege of being surrounded by those beauties.
In the calm of the moment, amid the scent of the earth and water and the birds’ voices, something tightened in my chest. The innocence of these creatures was almost palpable. The trust they put in humans is the result of an ideal environment created for them. A place where they can feel safe and live the life every duck deserves. These amazing birds are lucky, many others not so much. So I raise my hat to Banteer and the small perfect world they built. And a thought remains, of how easy it would be to peacefully cohabit.