A power trio of residential ducks has quacked claim to a cozy cove at Marion County Lake.
Over the past year, lake officials have noted two mallards and a hen swimming, quacking, and often scavenging food at or near what some lakegoers know as “sandy beach,” a small stretch of shoreline in a camping area on the lake’s east side.
Most of their feathered kind already have migrated through, Superintendent Steven Hudson said.
“I think they were tame ducks once,” Hudson said. “They don’t seem to fly at all. They seem to just hang around that one cove.”
Wild ducks are not as friendly and typically fly when approached, he said, and if they were once pets, they might have had their wings clipped.
Assistant superintendent Brian Thiessen said the ducks “just showed up one day and never left.”
“We keep on seeing them,” he said. “I guess they’re our residential ducks.”
The quacking trio isn’t shy and has developed a reputation for being social with anglers and campers, some of whom have given them nicknames.
“‘Huey, Dewey, and Louie have camped with us several times,” Marion resident Donna Hajek said.
Jordan Metro, also of Marion, said the ducks amused his family.
“We had the girls out there for a day, and the ducks followed us everywhere we went,” he said. “It was pretty comical, and of course our girls loved it.”
He discovered the ducks “eat right out of your hand once they get used to you.”
While on a small dock in the area, lake visitor Sandy Niemczyk discovered that the ducks like ranch-flavored sunflower seeds.
The ducks gobbled up Doritos when they crashed a ladies-only camping trip, said Alisha Freeman of Manhattan.
“They were a little greedy with the food,” fellow camper Becky Hulett of Marion said, “but otherwise great camping guests.”
Denise Crabb of Marion said the ducks “got a little feisty” that night.
While the ducks’ sandpaper-like beaks cannot really hurt an adult, Hudson said they could peck and scare a child who has food.
The ducks seem to be mostly friendly and entertaining but Hudson has discovered evidence of less friendly interactions with humans.
“One time we noticed one of the ducks had been burned by some hot grease that got thrown on it,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would do that. They won’t bite or hurt you. But parents should be aware if they have young children out there.”
While it is impossible to know for sure which duck is which or how many there really are, the trio also may have raised ducklings according to local angler Shannon Allen.
“The momma duck swims by us all the time to show off the li’l ones,” he said. “When you talk to them they swim in closer.
“I think most folks feed them even if they won’t admit it.”
Allen and family dubbed the hen “Fertile Myrtle,” who he said “always had a lot of babies.”
One July night, Allen, his wife, and son also witnessed a duck tragedy.
“Around 11:30 p.m., there was a huge splash near where the momma duck bedded down with her babies,” Allen said. “She was quacking and raising all kinds of heck.”
He shined a light on the hen and saw that a flathead catfish, big turtle or something similar had got hold of a duckling.
“The momma was trying to get her babies away,” Allen said. “But it was herding her and the babies into a corner in shallow water not letting them get away.”
Allen wanted to help.
“I took my big catfish rod with a big sinker and treble hook and threw in the water in front of her trying to scare it off or snag it to get it away from the momma and li’l ones,” Allen said. “I guess it worked ’cause it left her alone, and she took her babies someplace else, just one baby short. We were sad that the baby was eaten, but it’s all part of nature.”
Only the heavens know what became of the other ducklings, which if they survived may have flown away.
Hudson seems to have grown attached to the ducks who remain and worries about their safety.
While the ducks seem to have become accustomed to humans and their food, Hudson does not encourage people feed them no matter how persistent they may be. Some human food, including bread, could be bad for the ducks’ digestive systems.
Worse yet, Hudson said, “once winter sets in they could also be prime targets for the two eagles we have out here.”