2007-09-13 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

Questionable duck behavior
By Sam Bari

A reader, and I swear, I did not make this up, from a little known suburb of Wentzville, Missouri, wrote in to ask the Googlamaniacs if they would do some research on her pet ducks.

For those of you who don't know, the Googlamaniacs are our crack team of researchers who spend nanoseconds of their valuable time searching for information. They specialize in gathering volumes of material on some of the most obscure topics on the planet to satisfy our thirst for knowledge about weird stuff. As a result, we now have a staff of experts with in depth information on odd subjects that nobody cares about.

Consequently, to redeem themselves from an unfounded stigma for wasting priceless computer time, our in-house group of geeky gurus jumped at the opportunity to do an actual study on something worthwhile. After all, duck research is a hot issue at social gatherings in my neighborhood.

The reader, who chose to remain anonymous, expressed concern about her ducks' strange behavior. Although she didn't want her identity revealed, she did give us the names of the ducks for identifi- cation purposes. The Googlamaniacs agreed that knowing the ducks were named Ajax, Relax, Spunky and Punky, was important.

She noted that Relax is no longer with her because Relax turned up missing one morning and has not returned for six months. She believes that Relax went exploring and found a more desirable home, and refuses to entertain the idea that she might have expired from unnatural causes and met her demise as a desirable tidbit for a nocturnal predator. Relax is now referred to as Exlax by the reader's neighbors who insist the duck was probably abducted.

The Googlamaniacs also felt that the species of ducks was an important issue to speed up the fact-finding process. Apparently, Ajax is a large, white AFLAC type duck, only not as famous. The researchers found that these ducks are commonly referred to as Pekins, which is probably an Americanization of Peking from the famous Chinese delicacy known as Peking Duck. They all agreed that Ajax would probably be quite tasty if prepared by an experienced Chinese chef, although the Googlamaniacs didn't tell the reader about their collective opinion. Spunky and Punky are Rouens, which are similar to Mallards, only bigger.

The anonymous reader had serious concerns because her ducks did not behave like ducks. She said that they have no duck traits. She went on to say that they can't swim, and they are afraid of the water. They will only go into the pond for an occasional drink and they stay in the shallow areas where their feet can touch bottom, which she finds quite disturbing. The reason she wanted documented research on the matter was because her purpose for buying the ducks was not being fulfilled.

The lady lives on a large piece of property in a very pastoral setting. In the middle of a meadow at the back of her house is a large pond that she felt would present a perfect scene through her picture window if ducks were swimming in the water. Her complaint was that the ducks can't swim and all they did was graze. She feared that their grazing would destroy her grassy meadow and she wanted to know if she had grounds for getting her money back.

The Googlamaniacs entered the inquiry into their computers and went to a local Chinese restaurant to dine on - you guessed it - while they waited for a response. Upon their return, they found that their inquiries required answers to a number of questions before they could complete their study. They fired off an e-mail to the anxious reader asking for answers to the pertinent questions. They were taken aback by her response.

Apparently, the ducks were purchased from a St. Louis hatchery in the middle of the big city. They were then transported to a tranquil rural setting where they were subjected to an environment and lifestyle they knew nothing about. The only other animals that influenced them on a regular basis were a herd of cows residing on an abutting property.

The ducks saw how the cows behaved and in their quest for acceptance to their new surroundings, behaved accordingly. The ducks thought they were expected to graze. The cows never went in the water, so the ducks felt that playing in the water was not the proper thing to do. Fundamentally, the little ducks thought they were cows because they were raised in a cow-friendly environment without the company of country ducks to set an example.

The Googlamaniacs wrote back to the lady and as gently as possible told her that the little city ducks could not be held responsible for unseemly behavior in a strange environment. They suggested taking them to another area where they could see some country ducks to act as role models.

Not knowing any country ducks, the lady bought some rubber ducks and placed them in the center of the pond, hoping her city ducks would get the idea. Unfortunately, the ducks were difficult to convince, but the cows thought the ducks in the center of the pond presented a cool alternative to grazing in the hot sun and decided to join them. The city ducks continued to believe they were cows, and as far as we know, they are still grazing.

This is what happens when humans attempt to intervene with Mother Nature. You end up with a system even critters can't understand.

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