Saturday, April 8, 2017

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt! -- Name of the Game for Jody (And all Life)

Jody, adapting and surviving for a year now.
Jody cautiously tagging along yesterday with a young and placid mallard pair.
Always careful and wary, but with a couple of seeming friends for the moment.
 Adapt, adapt, adapt! 

Adaptation is the name of the game for virtually all life on earth, be it human, animal or plant. Failure or inability to adapt to changing and sometimes harsh circumstances almost always results in harm, injury or death. 

For a particular domestic ("barnyard") duck abandoned alone last spring at Harlem Meer in Central Park, the early days must have been rough, requiring extraordinary adaptation.

Domestic ducks (bred for "meat") are flightless because their wings cannot support their heavy bodies in the air. Typically, domestic ducks are raised in animal factories or on family farms and are completely human-dependent. Their lives are typically short, cramped, automated and nearly always end in brutal slaughter.  

Sometimes however, domestic ducks are raised from ducklings as pets.  

Unfortunately, the novelty of keeping ducks as pets usually wears off when the birds become adult and prove difficult for most people to care for properly -- especially inside a house or apartment.

One suspects that the Indian Runner duck named, "Jody" dropped off at Harlem Meer last June was a discarded pet who quickly outgrew his welcome and became a burden to his caregivers.

But a city park -- even one with a sizable lake -- is not a natural or hospitable home for a domestic, human-dependent duck.

The challenges that this young duck was forced to adapt to in the early days of his abandonment were not only formidable, but nearly impossible.

There was first the matter of suddenly being in a frightening and foreign place.

Presuming Jody acted typical of other domestic ducks abandoned in parks, he likely hid in one small area of the Meer (probably among the marshes) for many days or weeks, being terrified to move around and attract attention from either other birds or humans.

Fortunately, as he was abandoned in warm weather, food was not an initial and insurmountable problem for Jody as water plants and insects are plentiful in spring and summer.  Nevertheless, domestic ducks are not accustomed to having to forage for wild food sources, so even this would have represented significant challenge and learning curve for a young duck devoid of flock or experienced companion.

But even greater than the obstacles of a strange and frightening place and the necessary foraging for food, was the matter of suddenly being in the territory of other (wild) birds and not being capable of flight and easy escape.

Jody would not have been welcomed and accepted by the wild mallards who regard Harlem Meer as home and territory. On the contrary, he was surely regarded as "threat" especially in the early days of his existence at Harlem Meer.

Even a year later, Jody's current behavior still demonstrates some fear, trepidation and past trauma associated with mallards  -- especially when getting too close or if humans are tossing food. Jody constantly defers to mallards and appears to take great pains not to alienate or irritate them. It is more than obvious that Jody has had to take his licks at the Meer and learn very quickly who the bosses are. Jody is the low bird on the totem pole and no one knows that better than he does.

I first became aware of Jody early last summer. But there came times when I did not see him at all and assumed that either something happened to him or he was rescued. I stopped visiting Harlem Meer for some months as it is not that close to where I live.  

Then on a chance revisit to the Meer, I saw Jody again last December.

I became concerned for his survival over the winter and Harlem Meer again became part of my routine walks through Central Park.  I felt it important to nutritionally look after Jody over the winter when natural food sources are in short supply. Were the lake to entirely freeze over and the other birds to leave, Jody would have required rescue.

Fortunately, the winter wasn't particularly brutal and Jody proved himself to be highly resilient and adaptable. He quickly learned how to adapt to frigid cold, ice on the lake, snow storms and an influx of more than 100 migratory Canada geese and ducks of many sizes and varieties.

Since all the birds were in winter "survival mode" there was little in the way of territorial disputes and dominance displays. Though Jody still showed reverence and caution around the other birds, none appeared to harass, reject or chase him.  Put simply, they needed their energy for more important things -- like staying warm and finding sufficient food.

But winter officially ended three weeks ago. The migratory ducks and geese have since departed Harlem Meer and the remaining (resident) mallards have mostly paired off and become protective and territorial of their mates and space.

(One dominant mallard pair has seemingly claimed the south east portion of the lake and any bird who wanders into their space --including Jody -- quickly gets the bum's rush.)

But, Jody has been through all this before and against all odds, adapted and survived.  Truth is, it had to be much harder a year ago, when he was new, juvenile, human-dependent, terrified, alone and completely inexperienced. (Since then, Jody has also learned to be wary of dogs, hawks, fisherman and other suspect humans.) 

Yesterday, I visited the Meer again and was pleasantly surprised to find Jody cautiously intermingling with some of the more placid and accepting mallards. In fact, he appeared to be tagging along respectfully with a young mallard pair who bore him no obvious ill will.

One imagines that after all this time, Jody has a "sense" of which dominant mallards to avoid and which he can casually hang with without causing undue riff and irritation.

It's still a lonely and uncertain existence for the domestic duck who will never fly and stands out on the Meer like snow in June. Like so many other domestic ducks abandoned in parks who eventually fall victim to dogs, hawks or sick humans, anything could happen to Jody anytime. There are no guarantees -- especially for a domestic bird incapable of flight.

But for sure, Jody has proven himself to be exceptionally smart and most of all, adaptable to whatever has been thrown his way.

For the moment, Jody is Okay.

And who knows? 

Perhaps in a month or two, one of those adorable little "Easter ducklings" might suddenly find him or herself in a strange and frightening place -- only this time there will be a peaceable mentor only too happy to take him under his wing and show her the ropes of survival in a public park with many potential dangers and predators.

Central Park has, in fact, a long history of teaching (or forcing) "adaptability" on a variety of discarded pets, most notably, turtles and domestic ducks.

It doesn't say a lot for the human race, but it says a lot about the animals and their sheer will and tenacity to survive. -- PCA 



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