Duck Duck Gone

Long ago in an England far far away my sister Angela adopted a duck. Her motivation is lost to history. Perhaps it was nostalgia for our childhood Sunday picnics in Valentines Park, a short bus ride from home. I remember how much we enjoyed feeding the ducks from the bag of bread crusts we brought along. We didn’t yet know how harmful it is to feed wildlife. Perhaps a newly enlightened Angela was seeking atonement. The story of the adopted duck recently resurfaced when she found the documentation in a box of old papers.

In the words of The Wildfowl Trust the goal was to support the “essential and expensive research” of gaining “scientific knowledge of the birds’ migrations and the way in which their populations rise and fall.” Back in 1974 you could support this research by adopting a ringed bird for a mere 35 pence. Today it would take a minimum of 3 pounds a month. But now they do send you a “cute cuddly” toy duck along with your information package.

The most interesting promise, then and now, is that you may receive news of your duck as it migrates all over Europe. Perhaps Angela’s duck would fly to Belgium and visit our family there.  But, The Wildfowl Trust admonishes, you have only a one in five chance of hearing about your duck at all. In light of what happened the next sentence is ominous. If you are unlucky and hear nothing it may mean your bird is lucky!

After some months Angela received a postcard in the mail. The handwritten note is a masterpiece of the terse official statement genre. 

We are sorry to have to tell you that your mallard was shot at Goldhanger, Essex, on 28th December 1974.

Goldhanger is a picturesque former fishing village on the banks of the Blackwater Estuary on the Essex coast. It has a Norman Church, a village hall, two pubs, and not much else. Its attraction lies in the surrounding landscape of marshland and mud flats, a perfect place for bird watching in fact.

But also for duck hunting. The Blackwater Wildfowlers Association is still active today carrying on a duck hunting tradition that dates back to medieval times in the area. Duck number GP 70799 met his fate there at the height of duck hunting season. May he rest in peace.

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