On Thanks and Ducks

Wednesday Blogsday and Thanksgiving Eve.  I didn’t want to write another “what I’m grateful for” essay or discuss the true meaning of gratitude.  There have been a lot of those posted, and they have a good message, but you don’t need another one.

That said, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do the launch/reading/ signing of Smoking In Bed at Book Soup in West Hollywood this past Sunday, and for all the people who came down to support the book, and for the excellent Book Soup staff.  They’ll be selling Smoking In Bed soon.  If you like bookstores (and who doesn’t, really), please visit this and the other excellent LA bookstores so we can have them around for a long time.

Book Soup website

I’m grateful for the great work of Carlos Nieto, who drew our cover illustration and then put it together beautifully, finishing on a deadline while on the slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon.  Really.

Smoking in Bed ebook cover

And I am very grateful to Kiki Ryan for a lot of things, but in this particular case, for initiating, organizing, hosting and moderating the event.

Author and much better half celebrating the book launch with a dinner out.

Now, if you all read the book, and tell 2 friends, and they tell 2 friends, and so on and so on and so on… well then we might be on to something here.

It’s been a trying time here in California, between mass shootings and horrific wildfires, so once again it’s difficult to sit at my desk and write something humorous and fun. This is where ducks come in.

My newest hobby is duck observation.  Last year we moved into a nice townhome community with an incredibly realistic water feature, a stream with little waterfalls that runs through the entire property.  It’s full of koi, huge and tiny, and large turtles, and it attracts beautiful birds of many kinds, including great herons, egrets falcons and hawks.

This heron thought it was a real creek. Bird brain.
Falcon taking off from fake stream after bathing. Falcons love duckling.

These other animals mostly avoid human contact if at all possible. But then there are the ducks.

There are many ducks of the mallard species (Anas platyrhynchos) in our community. These are the ducks most of you see all the time on lakes and rivers and ponds around our fine country. They are naturally a migrating species that follow the food supply which largely means flying south for the winter.

There are signs around here that threaten a $500 fine for feeding the ducks.  Nowhere does it say which entity will assess a fine, or if there is a Duck Inspector who hands out such tickets.

Some of the people around here, especially those with small children, feed the ducks, which is kind of expected.  It’s fun for the kids. What do they feed them?  White bread.  White bread is as bad for ducks as it is for human children.  This called for some research.

Most duck experts agree that feeding migrating ducks is generally not a good idea because if they can get enough food in one place they won’t migrate. That said, however, if ducks find an area that can sustain them year round with food and safe places to sleep, they won’t waste their time. They’re like the old folks back in NY.  They would go back and forth to Florida every year, but once they could just stay in one place, why the hell bother with the packing and the flying and the moving and all the rest?

The experts went on to say that it’s probably okay to feed ducks that aren’t migrating, but maybe not every day.  And definitely not white bread.  They suggest feeding ducks what you might feed other birds: seeds, grains, berries and grapes (cut into small pieces so the ducks won’t choke – no teeth, you know).  So now we feed the baby ducks organic quinoa, same as we eat.  They love it. They come by regularly.  We usually kick out the older ducks (except maybe the mom) because they can forage for themselves.

Mom keeping an eye on babies as they panhandle for food.

Ducks are actually pretty friendly.  They might hiss and peck if you get too close, but can’t hurt (except maybe a really big duck), and some of the little ones will let you pet them a little.  But they’re filthy, so wash up afterwards.  It helps to have a hose near where you feed them because they crap all over everything.  I use duck crap for fertilizer.  They are very stupid, however, and will often return 45 minutes after being fed having completely forgotten.  Or they are very smart and this is a ploy to get more quinoa.  And they can be quite cheeky when demanding your attention (and food).

Hand over your quinoa or the toitle gets it, capice?

This living environment provides the unexpected opportunity to observe how ducks develop from little baby ducklings (nothing much cuter than a baby duck) to adults in 4-6 months, and to see how the speculum feathers (see photo) come in, a blue or purple shade signaling that the duck can now fly.  You can also see the boys become boys.

Baby ducks all look the same, like miniature versions of their mothers. Same brown feathers.  Their feet aren’t quite orange yet, more like a dirty green, as are their beaks.  But damn are they cute. And they chirp like little chicks when feeding.

Baby ducks just a few weeks old. Too damn cute. They didn’t all make it, sadly. Falcons, you know.

After a few months, they will all develop speculum feathers.  A month or so after, the boys start growing a white ring around the neck, followed by beautiful emerald green feathers covering the head, and the feathers on the wings and body lighten to the distinctive silver-grey of the male mallard.

Close up of speculum feathers
Juvenile duck with new speculum feathers. Note organic quinoa on ground. Not cheap.

Now, this is all common knowledge, but there is something great about watching them come by every day and see this duck “transition” right in front of your eyes.  It’s like a lot of men. They look like their mothers when they’re boys, and then when they get older they look like their dads.  It’s almost like a gender reassignment.

My little friend has a new neck ring and his green head feathers are coming in beautifully.

The only downside to this new duck observation hobby is that I can no longer bring myself to order duck at a restaurant. Duck is delicious, especially in a cassoulet, and cassoulet season is coming.  But I can’t. Ducks are friends, not food.  Here’s a cassoulet recipe, however, for those of you who like to eat Porky and Daffy:

The highest rated cassoulet recipe on the internet

Of course, there is always turkey.  Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and let’s hope for peace and prosperity and fairness for all, and for the healing of all those affected by the fires and shootings.  Something’s got to change.  It won’t happen all by itself.

Hey, Smoking In Bed makes a great holiday gift for the reader in your life!  Buy one today.  Heck, buy 2.  And if I ever run into you, I promise to sign it!  Give the gift of reading.

And thank you for being you!

Smoking In Bed on Amazon


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