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Kip Anderson
Gardener Kip Anderson

April: Creatures with Feathers

Kip explains the evolution of the Victory Garden's geese and duck populations
by Kip Anderson

I'm sure I've mentioned some of the four-legged herbivorous pests that raid our gardens from time to time, and I probably had something to say about deterrent measures we've taken. Normally the presence of carnivores in the neighborhood is deemed a good thing, for obvious reasons. In the past several years we've sighted coyotes, foxes and a fisher (often called a fisher cat) on the property, and they are welcome to all the rabbits, voles, woodchucks and so forth that they are able to run down. We feel a bit different when the prey turns out to be our livestock.

Four or five years ago there were two ducks and about 10 geese living on what was then the new site of The Victory Garden. The two species sometimes shared the pond together, but mostly they kept to their own kind. Then one morning we discovered that there was only one duck, and what do you suppose a solitary duck must do under the circumstances? It becomes a goose, or at least tries to. There was something a bit pathetic about the arrangement, for the geese were unkind to the duck, jabbing it with their bills when it came within reach, but nonetheless the urge to flock was so strong that it continued to tag along despite the abuse — not birds of a feather, but birds at least, creatures with feathers. I wonder what a sole surviving goose would have done had the situation been reversed.

The following summer we acquired 15 new ducks, and our long-suffering antihero was in duck heaven, happily showing the newcomers around their new environs. There were some losses early on, but a couple of broods were hatched and things were looking up. Perhaps the sheer number of fowl had exceeded some threshold, or maybe roving predators just got lucky. One by one, the geese were carried off in the night (by a coyote, we suspected) until there were none.

Ducks seem to have the survival advantage of being willing to spend the night out on the water. For two more years the duck population remained fairly stable (within the bounds of normal attrition), in part, I'm sure, because we tried to drive them (or entice them with food) into the barn at night. A month ago we had six ducks. Finally, in this warmest of winters, the pond froze, foreclosing the opportunity of safe haven, and now there is only one.

The pond is free of ice now, and if there is to be a good ending to this sad tale, it must have to do with how the lone survivor has convinced some wild ducks to frequent the pond of which it is now the sole proprietor. I sometimes hear them raising their voices, laughing at duck jokes no doubt.

I guess I'll just skip the tale about the fisher cat that had a fondness for fresh chicken.

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published August 31, 2007