Christmas at the Pond

A weekend “walk” in the park usually meant the opposite.

We’d sit or lie down on blankets, pick at picnic foods and fall asleep under the meager British sunshine. If any walking was performed it was merely a few steps taken to the muddy side of the ponds where we fed the ducks left-over sandwich crust edges. It wasn’t just our family; it was a national pastime to introduce junk food to the country’s ducks, swans and geese. If there were small ducklings or young swans, the competition to feed them was fierce.

During the week, with few human visitors, these birds at Pen Ponds in Richmond Park would eat small fish, grubs, insects and seeds, but on weekends, their diet was largely stale bread. Their swimming changed too. Instead of paddling across the water randomly in all directions in search of nature’s nutritious offerings, they moved together quickly, in straight lines directly to the water’s edge where groups of human spectators gathered. Conditioned by the sound of paper bags being opened, the waterfowl raced each other, paddling appealingly to attract attention. Look over here, look, I got here first, feed me, yes me.

But one day a year, my mother took duck feeding to another level. On Christmas Day, while the turkey cooked in the oven and the figgy pudding slowly steamed, she gathered slices of stale bread and on this day, and this day only, she added a brown spread to the bread, packed the treats in a small bag and headed for the park. Here she would throw the Nutella chocolate smeared bread to the ducks and sing out to them, “Merry Christmas Little Duckies.”

By Andrea Ehrgottt  

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