Hot Duck mania has gripped the internet. It’s sent birding twitter atwittering, and the New York City news media seems to hang on the duck’s every move. At this point, the duck may be a semi-permanent fixture of Central Park, and it’s good that so many people love it.
But don’t you dare disrespect the Hot Duck.
Specifically, stop feeding it bread. Stop feeding all of the ducks bread.
The tale of the Hot Duck is now as stale as a soft pretzel floating in a pond, but here’s a recap anyway. On October 10, birder Gus Keri spotted a Mandarin duck in Central Park, then the duck disappeared before reappearing two weeks later, upon which it started a social media and news media storm. The New York Times wrote about it as if it was a rarity, though Mandarin ducks are a common ornamental pet and zoo feature, and you can buy a pair for $125. Our Hot Duck most certainly belongs to someone, as it has a tag around its leg.
If it’s a pet duck, who cares? We do, because it’s a hot duck. Just look at it—he’s rainbow colored, with a face of satin, a full beard, and a softly-textured belly. It is unquestionably a hot duck. And, while the endless drivel of horrid news continues on, the Hot Duck continues to be a sexy beacon.
People are now obsessed with the Hot Duck. When it flew to a different location for a day, a handful of news outlets reported that it had gone missing (it’s back now). It’s become a New York City tourist attraction. But since the New York Times report recounted that birder David Barrett climbed around a tree and attempted to feed a soft pretzel to the duck (and since people literally always feed ducks in the park), some of the thousands of estimated visitors have done the same. Other ducks have gotten the message, and the pond has now turned into a case study of, as Center for Investigative Reporting journalist Aaron Sankin told me, trickle-down duckonomics.
“Following the duck around was a whole bunch of regular ducks. Standard New York ducks,” he said, recounting his recent trip to see the duck. “They were all in the same area, and because it’s really difficult to accurately throw a small piece of bread, all the other ducks were picking up the scraps.”
There’s plenty of bird-Twitter discourse about how the public has been treating this duck, since, when a bird isn’t a pet, birders abide by a set of ethics. Birders are supposed to protect birds’ habitats, avoid stressing them out, and “limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds.” The question surrounds whether these ethics apply to the escaped Mandarin duck—but it certainly applies to the park’s native mallards and wood ducks.
But this isn’t just about wildlife—it’s about respect. Bread makes ducks sick. You come into my city and feed bread to my Hot Duck. How would you feel if I came into your house and threw dog food at your kids?
I asked veteran birder and author Kenn Kaufman for his take about whether it’s okay to feed the Hot Duck. “I’d just like them to do it in a conscientious way, with appropriate foods,” he told Gizmodo. “Ducks shouldn’t be fed bread, candy, or junk food, but it’s okay to give them corn or other grains, or mealworms. Some pet stores and farm supply stores sell feed mixes specially formulated for ducks and geese. In the wild, Mandarin Ducks feed on a variety of things including acorns, nuts, grains, and some small creatures like snails and insects.”
In short: “Bread is bad,” said Kaufman. “Definitely stop throwing bread to the ducks.”
Perhaps consider not feeding the ducks at all, since they’re doing fine eating what they have in the pond. “There are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t feed the duck, but the gnarliest involve disease,” Martha Harbison, content editor at the National Audubon Society, told Gizmodo. “When you feed ducks, they tend to stick around the area where the food is, rather than search across a wide area. And congregated ducks mean congregated duck poop, which they then eat along with that bread you tossed on the ground.”
I’ve read tons of duck discourse, and have been trying for weeks to write about the duck as one of two birders across Kinja. It’s great that people are excited about the Hot Duck, pet or not. But Central Park was one of the top birding destinations in the city before Hot Duck showed up. Ducks are a favorite for some, and by tossing bread to the Mandarin duck, you’re potentially harming the native ducks in the pond as well. You’re ruining it for all of us.
Respect our city. Respect our Hot Duck—and all of our hot ducks.