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A Duck Flew Into Our Highland Park Backyard...and Wouldn't Leave

Our houseguest

Photo by Steven Leigh MorrisOur houseguest

In our new column, First Person, L.A. writers tackle the good, the bad and the funny about life as they know it.

The other day, a duck

flew into our backyard, in one of the canyons of Highland Park. A big

white duck. It just dropped out of the sky, in the middle of this huge,

inhospitable city.

I know almost nothing about ducks, except that

they like water. So on the morning of the duck's arrival, I went outside

with a red plastic bucket of water. He let me no closer than about six

feet before waddling away. But when I stirred the water with my fingers,

the duck's eyes lit up. When I splashed a few drops in his direction,

his wings flapped in joy.

I withdrew, and the duck approached the

bucket and drank, and drank, and drank. Were the bucket larger, or he

smaller, he would have thrown his body into it.

Dropping all prior

commitments, my fiancée and I drove to a feed store in Glendale for

duck food. (We also bought a gaudy plastic kiddie pool.) The sales clerk

tried to answer our stream of questions. "Big white ducks don't fly,"

she told us. "It's probably a Pekin duck. Somebody tossed it over your

fence."

When we got home, we raced to the rear window to check if

he was still there. He was napping next to the bucket, and as I carried

out the kiddie pool, he watched, quizzical. I inflated and filled it

while he observed from a distance. I splashed him with water. This time

he looked skeptical: Who are you, anyway?

We watched from the

house as the duck approached the pool gingerly, poking his beak into the

water. It took him almost half an hour before he finally hoisted

himself into the water, and dunked himself, and frolicked, and flapped

his wings, and shook himself off, sending out a spray of mist. An hour

later he was standing on the pool's rim, napping. Later, preening his

feathers. Later, swimming again. Later, napping. He was living the kind

of life we could only dream of.

We tried to concentrate on our

work, but checking on the duck became our mutual obsession. We tried to

come up with a name: Charlie? Chester? Oliver!

It was getting

late, and, thanks to Oliver, our three dogs still hadn't been able to

romp in the garden, which they're used to doing three or four times a

day. Night was coming, and with it raccoons and coyotes. Maybe Oliver

could spend the night in a cage, where he'd be safe.

As the light

faded, I tried to guide Oliver into the cage with a combination of

breadcrumbs and herding techniques. He would have none of it.

My

fiancée had grown impatient on behalf of the dogs -- dogs she'd either

reared or rescued before we met. She was right, they were here first,

yet I found myself standing up for our uninvited guest. She approached

Oliver with a large towel, tossing it over his wings, hoping to catch

and confine him where it was safe.

But Oliver took flight, landing

on a neighbor's rooftop. There he perched as the light faded. We sat in

the twilight on our back porch, wondering what to do with him, when we

saw a white streak blaze across the sky. Oliver's wingspan gleamed as he

streaked to and fro across the canyon, before disappearing into the

night.

Well, that's that, we figured. He's gone.

Still, we wondered, where did he go?

Neighbors emailed us information on duck-rescue services.

Looking

up duck breeds online, I learned he wasn't a Pekin duck at all but a

Muscovy -- protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

My

fiancée said it was a relief he was gone, that we'd gotten absolutely

nothing done during his visit. But the next morning, we peered out the

window to see if Oliver might have returned. Lo and behold, there he

stood on the rim of the pool -- head twisted back into his shoulders,

napping.

And yet the time had come for Oliver to face the reality

that the dogs had the right to spend time in the garden, too. When we

brought them down on leashes, he was fearless, impudent, strutting

toward them until one of them lunged. That's when Oliver retreated to

the neighbor's roof. He didn't return to his pool until the dogs went

back into the house.

He flew off that night, but he returned

during the day, and repeated that pattern again the next night. We

banged pots and pans to warn Oliver when the dogs were coming,

off-leash, and Oliver got it, flying to his rooftop refuge, then

returning once the danger had passed.

It took a cat to upset our fragile peace.

On

Oliver's fourth day with us, we saw from the window a large dark feral

cat, crouching near the pool. Oliver saw him, too -- and took flight

directly from the water. In an instant, the cat was poolside.

This

time, Oliver was shaken. This attack had come with no warning from pots

and pans, no leashes, and Oliver seemed to understand that he could no

longer relax in our garden. He stayed on the rooftop for hours, gazing

out alert in all directions. His holiday, like ours, was over.

That night, he took off above the canyon and never returned.

I

found myself wondering if he was Canada-bound, but Kimball L. Garrett,

ornithology collections manager at the L.A. Natural History Museum,

tells me that's not possible. Muscovies are indigenous to the tropics of

Southern and Central America, and only migrate as far north as the Rio

Grande. Muscovy ducks in L.A. are either raised for food or eggs, or are

part of a feral flock moving from park to park, if they even fly at

all.

So Oliver may still be around, somewhere. I keep checking the sky, to no avail.

A

few weeks before our duck arrived, I had felt a swoosh while gardening,

like a breeze -- a red-tailed hawk had almost scraped me on its ascent.

In its talons was a gray pigeon, cowering silently. It climbed; they

climbed, slowly and intractably. Following behind was a second pigeon,

perhaps a mate, or a parent, dive-bombing the hawk in a heartbreaking

rescue attempt. I doubt the attempt succeeded.

There are dangers in the gardens all around us. Oliver was wise to move on.

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