Lord Love A Duck

Have you heard about the HotDuck™? Good gravy — which is probably what it should be served with — there’s been quite a media ballyhoo over a stray male Mandarin Duck that escaped from some farm or zoo somewhere and ended up in Central Park. No fan of zoos, I haven’t seen the bird myself.

A New York Times article introduced the bird to the thinking classes (or so they seem to think). In the article, a David Barrett, who has made a name for himself on Twitter as a competitive birder, actually baited the bird with junk food. So the unknowing Times reporter modeled some absolutely terrible birding ethics for many readers. Barrett has also monetized the duck by selling tee shirts, as have a few others. He also broadcasts the specific location of owls publicly, something an ethical birder wouldn’t do. (Unfortunately, such knowledge empowers bad actors like this “asshole,” who makes money off of owl-harassment.)

Now, the duck’s fans will say it could be a gateway for new bird watchers. Maybe, but I don’t see much hope in an exotic animal, practically a pet, inspiring ecological thinking and environmental activism, which we need much more than more listers or tickers vying for the absurdity of “Top Birder” on Ebird.

The duck has been transformed into a kind of pet. And as we know, we prioritize our pets over the wild, as the unleashed dogs and feral cat enablers prove every day.

Is harm done to the wild when we highlight the pretty, the tame, the cute, but ignore, if not actually attack, the not-pretty, the not-tame, the not-cute?  See the bugs being exterminated; the seals being harassed; the owls being captured by Harry Potter fans; the criminal despoliations of the exotic pet industry world-wide.

Are we killing nature with love, with celebrity? Because that is what HotDuck™ is: a celebrity, drowning out all the “little people” with its colorful preening. The question should be asked: is mass popularity of a crazily coiffured critter actually a good thing? Since when? Do any of these thousands of selfies contribute to conservation, habitat restoration, political action against the crony capitalist oligarchies devouring the planet?

Doesn’t it, rather, lead to groups of 50 people shining flashlights on owls in Central Park?

Can this HotDuck™ phenomenon be somewhat akin to the Instagram/selfie effect, in which people trash remote locations, fragile landscapes, and habitats for social media “likes”?

See also: the problem of foraging and mushrooming here in the city. There aren’t enough plants and mushrooms to go around in a city of 8 million, of course, but at least these collectors are still just a small faction. But watch them in action: they stomp off the path with abandon in NYC parks, wild plants be damned, food for wild animals be damned. It’s all about them and nothing else.


7 Responses to “Lord Love A Duck”

  1. 1 Linda Musial January 13, 2019 at 9:25 am

    I totally agree with you though I have seen the Mandarín out of curiosity.
    I was interested in its interactions with the Mallard Ducks.I watched the Mandarín follow a pair of Mallards around the pond, but they would have nothing to do with it. Then I watched it try to get on a rock with them but one of the mallards snapped at the Mandarín and so it gave up.
    But as for me, I like to watch a group of very industrious types of sparrows do a kind of dance to get at food under the soil. I think they are Fox Sparrows. They are very different from the sparrows that I call mendigas that crowd around anyone with food at the le Pain Quotidien patios in Central Park.

    • 2 mthew January 13, 2019 at 9:54 am


      The active leaf-kicking sparrows this time of year may be White-throated Sparrows. Fox Sparrows are certainly around, but not in the numbers you will see for for White-throateds.

      Excellent name for House Sparrows: mendigas, (which, yes, I had to look up but suspected would be related to mendicant).

  2. 3 Murray Fisher January 13, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Yes yes yes

    Murray Fisher BIllion Oyster Project http://www.bop.nyc


  3. 4 Linda Musial January 13, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Yes. The hard-working sparrows are White-throated Sparrows. I saw them dancing away today. They have all the markings I saw in the Audubon Society page.

  4. 5 Ken Chaya January 14, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Just a note to say, “Bravo!” on your Sunday post, “Lord Love A Duck.” Because of the views and the behavior of people like David Barret and Bob DeCandido, and much of the public and the media’s uninformed embrace of their unethical practices, I fear that the trend in some local birders may be leaning regrettably toward less awareness and less sensitivity toward nature. There are many ethical birders and naturalists who reject those misinformed views and will call out and stand up to bad behavior in the field (just as you have done here). Perhaps it is time to redefine the relationship between birds and birders. Responsible birders and naturalists should view themselves as visitors and witnesses to our fragile urban ecosystems. As privileged guests we should not cause any harm or exploitation, but rather should embrace protection, care and respect of all living things as we seek out authentic experiences with our local wildlife—not the enterprising harassment of it for personal gain and fulfillment that we have seen from Barrett and DeCandido. Thank you again for speaking up and sharing your views.

  5. 6 Sherry Felix January 14, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve told more than one person about the duck and others have asked me about it. In most cases they were unaware that anything other than rock pigeons or mallards lived in Central Park. In my opinion, this Mandarin duck can open the door to awareness and appreciation of the diversity of wildlife in our urban parks. It is a conversation starter.
    It is up to us, as serious guardians of nature, to educate. There needs to be awareness of what is there, then appreciation, followed by learning how to protect and conserve our wildlife. I like to share information and tell novice nature lovers about ethical nature observation conduct at every opportunity. That include the things mentioned above and in comments.
    I agree, foraging in urban parks is damaging.

  6. 7 Gubbinal January 17, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    Excellent post. All I have to say except I read your work with excitement, passion, and for all I learn from you.

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