We were walking in the Japanese Garden in the Missouri Botanical Garden on this brisk February afternoon. As we approached the wooden Flat Bridge -- which is a bridge over a narrow part of the lake where, in warmer weather, adults and children gather to feed the hungry koi who climb all over each other to catch the feed pellets – he ambled up to us. Since it was quite chilly, there were very few visitors and no children at all; just the three of us. The little guy seemed determined. He made it very clear that he was hungry and wanted Michael to give him some food. He kept a respectable distance but stayed at Michael’s side until he was sure his needs would be met.
His green cap shimmered in the late afternoon sun. His yellow beak never let out a squawk, but his body language and his movements were easy to decipher. The male mallard duck had waddled out of the lake with his mate and another pair of mallards, but, not finding food, they went right back into the water. The little guy was on a solo mission and he would not be deterred. He was serious about scoring food from his perceived benefactors, and he had no intention of sharing. He was in this all for himself!
With a few insistent pecks at Michael’s shoe, the duck herded him to the feed dispensing machine where a quarter bought a handful of little brown pellets of fish food. The ducks usually hang around to scarf up whatever the fish miss during their feeding frenzy, so the pellets worked as duck food too. Today, because of the cold, the koi were sluggish and not very interested in food. But this hungry mallard sure was.
Michael dropped the pellets on the path for our ravenous little friend, and even though they scattered, the duck found every little morsel and devoured them greedily. Figuring the other ducks might be hungry too, Michael ventured to the other end of the bridge to throw them a few pellets. Our friend wasn’t happy; he followed closely at Michael’s heels, impatiently waiting his turn for more pellets.
All too soon, the first handful was gone, but our friend was obviously still hungry because he steered Michael right back to the feed dispenser at the other end of the bridge. He watched as Michael dropped another quarter in and another handful of feed pellets fell into his waiting hand. Our little friend once again eagerly searched out each pellet that was dropped for him, pecked at it with his beak and devoured it. Again, the second handful of pellets was quickly gone.
At this moment, a pair of geese which had been nibbling grass on the other side of a low bamboo fence watched as the determined little mallard again hustled Michael to the dispenser. Geese aren’t known for their gentle nature, and for a minute the situation looked like it could get a bit dicey if the geese decided to fly over the fence. The geese were obviously used to this mallard’s greedy ways because they went about their own business, leaving him to his spoils.
When he had devoured the third handful, he was angling for more food, but it was getting late. The wind was coming up, we were quite chilled, and we still had a good distance to walk back to the visitor’s center. At the risk of incurring the mallard’s wrath, we decided it was time to head out. There seemed to be an invisible boundary beyond the bridge because as soon as we were a few yards from it, our friend waddled contentedly back across the bridge and headed off to join his mate in the water.
We were left to marvel at the amazing ability of this little wild creature to make his needs known. I laughed at how he’d done all this without uttering one word, much less a squawk! “This little beggar could teach me a lesson,” I thought. “I should be more persistent when there is something I really want and not give up too soon.” We headed off to warm up in our car on the way home.
Laurie Gilberg Vander Velde tries to be gone - off exploring - for nearly 6 months per year. Retirement has given her the opportunity to travel to many places with her husband of almost 42 years. She loves to write about her experiences as she travels through life.
photos: by Steffe and Laurie Gilberg Vander Velde
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