Author shares funny story recounting his match-up with a beady-eyed duck that didn’t know it’s impolite to stare.
Man Versus Duck, illustration by Kevin Rechin
Story by Rick Sylvia
After four hours of kayaking, I was ready to stretch my legs. Chesapeake Bay’s Plum Tree Island presented an inviting shore, so I landed and spread out a beach towel to sit and enjoy a sandwich, some chips and a drink.
After only a few bites, I got the funny feeling I was being watched. About 20 feet to my right, a duck sat partly hidden by a mangled pile of branches, leaves and grasses. Normally I respect wildlife, giving creatures a wide berth, but I was stiff, tired and hungry and couldn’t have felt less like moving. So I stayed put, figuring that pretty soon the duck would just paddle off.
As I munched my sandwich, I felt duck eyes drilling a hole through me. Have you ever tried eating with a duck watching? It’s far more unnerving than a begging pet. I tried concentrating on my food, on the scenery, on anything but the duck. Yet my eyes wandered again and again back to the brush pile. And every time, I saw the bird staring back, watching my every move with beady black eyes.
I became uncomfortable enough to wave my arm, hoping to startle the duck off. “Shoo!” No reaction, just that wary stare. I put my sandwich down and sighed, then waved both arms. Still no reaction. I called out again, this time raising my voice. “Shoo! Go on! Get out of here!” There the duck sat, watching.
This was ridiculous. I tore a piece of bread off my sandwich, balled it up and tossed it in the direction of—OK, at—the duck. The bread landed a couple of feet in front of the creature, which neither flinched nor broke eye contact.
I couldn’t believe it: Here I was in a standoff with a duck. I picked up a small stick and tossed it lightly right at the bird—not with the intention of harming it, just hoping for some reaction. The moment the missile left my hand, I regretted it.
It wasn’t like me to throw sticks at birds. I like birds. I enjoy birds. The stick seemed to fly in slow motion, spinning end over end, until it finally landed square on the duck’s back.
Any duck in its right mind would’ve jumped up squawking, but not this duck. It sat frozen, giving me the same hard, cold stare. That’s when I began to suspect something wasn’t right.
I put my lunch down and marched straight over. I was going to run this crazy bird off once and for all. I got closer and closer, but that daffy duck just sat there like the Rock of Gibraltar, daring me to come on over.
Ten feet away, then 5 feet, 3 feet, and still no movement. Had this duck lost all fear of humans? Finally, toe to webbed foot with it, I bent down and jabbed a finger into the center of its forehead. That’s right: There I was, man against nature, poking a duck between the eyes. That was when I reached out, picked the bird up and admired the most realistic decoy I’ve ever seen in my life.