Quacker crumbs

IT'S a simple, relaxing thing to do,'' I thought. ``I'll just take this plastic bag of pulverized crackers to the shoreline and feed the ducks.'' But, as I was soon to learn, this task is not always simple. It can be fraught with obstacles sure to confound the fair-minded feeder. Personally, I feel that some sort of degree should be awarded to anyone who can achieve a truly equitable distribution of duck food.

But let me recount my experience. I approached the shoreline in charitable spirit, eager to play the benefactor to a group of grateful fowl. The ducks sensed a handout. They floated before me in the pond and made their various eloquent appeals, all of which somehow came out sounding like ``Quack!''

Before I had even tossed the first bit of cracker, a monopolizing mallard took to driving the others back. This was one tough duck! He churned his feet in paddle-wheel fashion, lowered his head like a butting billy goat, and charged at any of his peers who attempted to share his front-and-center position. This was done in order to give himself elbowroom (if you will momentarily imagine a duck with elbows) for the task of acquiring each and every cracker bit.

The tough duck was smart. He kept his colleagues at least 15 feet back, knowing that it's impossible to throw a cracker fragment more than 8 or 10 feet. (Indeed, cracker bits rank with potato chips as being among the most difficult foods to throw -- as any reader of scientific journals would know.) So it appeared that any food I might dispense would be destined to go down this mallard's gullet.

But a possible solution came to mind. Perhaps I could work the ducks from side to side. That is, I would throw several crackers to the extreme right, pulling the mallard out of position. When he had committed himself to the right-hand locale, I would then throw to the far left and, in this way, manage to feed some of the others.

But this didn't work. My rusty throwing arm seemed to conspire with the considerable wind factor to ensure that no food went where intended.

Shortly thereafter, I devised another plan, but it would require the involvement of a second party. So I trudged a hundred yards or so back to the house and enlisted the help of my wife. She complied, but grudgingly. She had been busy with other things and did not consider the recreational feeding of ducks to be a two-person job. ``I used to be like you,'' I sighed. ``I thought it was only a matter of dropping crumbs on water. Those were such simple times.''

I divided the duck food in half, gave my wife a share, and suggested that we position ourselves about 30 feet apart on the shore. The presence of two feeders would force the mallard to choose which handout he would actively solicit. When he had made a commitment to one, the other feeder would be free to lavish cracker bits on the remaining, formerly deprived, ducks.

On a theoretical level, this was a sound solution. But too much commotion was created while marching to shore and discussing strategy; we woke up our dog. To the pooch this all seemed like a big production (understandable, when you consider that an hour spent slapping at his reflection in the water dish had, to this point, been the highlight of his week). He just had to see what was going on. Soon our pet was bounding along the shore, running between us, barking spiritedly at the ducks. He intimidated them into staying well beyond throwing range. Following these antics, the dog seemed to want to be thanked for saving us from a group of ferocious waterfowl.

By the time we had returned the dog to his proper premises, there was someone else on the shore competing for the ducks' attention. A boy with fishing gear was throwing bread crust fragments. He displayed the good arm motion and follow-through indicative of a feeder with potential. True, he was a little wet behind the ears (probably due to the splashing of eager ducks), but he was devoted to the task, as evidenced by the fact that when I offered him our crackers he was more than willing to add to his stockpile. I requested that he try to see that all the ducks got some, and with youthful determination and optimism he said, ``I will.''

Stout fellow. I could only wish him well. Myself, I had to find something more relaxing to do.

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