Vol 5 No. 51 - September 7, 2005

Duck tale full of drama, happy endings

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
Gertie and Robbie, too, share a get-acquainted bowl of water after the male Peking duck was brought to Anna Maria from Ocala to keep Gertie company.

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – It isn't often that a story about a hit and run accident has a happy ending, but this story is the exception.

It didn't start out that way. Someone struck and killed a Peking duck on Pine Avenue last week – right under a duck crossing sign.

"It was terrible," said Gary Thorpe, one of the city's public works employees. "Whoever it was didn't even stop. They just kept going. You have to wonder about people."

Thorpe said there has been a pair of large white ducks living in the Lake LaVista inlet as long as he's been working at the city, which is a little over five years.

"They are always together," he said. "They swim in the canal and in Lake LaVista. They cross Pine Avenue to get seeds from some of the trees. I think they mate for life. I named them after my parents, Gertie and Robbie."

Thorpe picked up the dead duck and buried it near Belle Haven cottage.

"That's one of the places those ducks went every day. The other one was quacking something terrible," he said. "I think it missed the other one. If a duck can make a sad quack, this one was making it."

Public Works Director George McKay said his department erected two duck crossing signs where the ducks go across Pine Avenue.

"I was afraid something like this might happen," he said. "That's why we put the signs up. They go really fast along here. The speed limit's 25 miles an hour, but they go much faster."

Apparently it's not illegal to do a hit and run accident if the victim is a duck.

"There are no laws for that, to my knowledge," said Manatee County Sheriff's Sgt. John Kenney, who heads up law enforcement in the city. "As long as there was nothing deliberate about hitting the duck. If there was, then you'd have animal cruelty charges."

Meanwhile, Thorpe, a self-professed animal lover, couldn't get the surviving duck out of his thoughts. He logged onto the Internet and learned that the canal is home to a pair of Peking ducks.

"They raise them in China for their meat," he said."

Then he called a friend of his in Massachusetts who raises chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to do some more research.

"He told me that the males have a couple of extra curly feathers on their tails," he said. "So the one that was killed was the male. It's the female who is crying and lonely."

Thorpe didn't stop there. He continued his research and found a farm in Ocala that raises and sells ducks. Saturday morning, he and his wife, Ann Marie who works in city hall, took off for Ocala with a borrowed dog crate to pick out a friend for Gertie.

"There were ducks everywhere and they weren't in the best condition," Thorpe said. "But I saw one particular one right from the beginning. He was bigger than the rest."

Ann Marie confirmed that.

"He told me to watch that one right from the beginning," he said. "He told me about the tail curling up in the back. (You can sure tell where that haircut got its name.)"

The Thorpes said the farmer grabbed the duck they wanted, put it in the crate and then they began the two-and-a-half hour return trip to the Island.

When they got back to the Island, they released the duck, now known as "Robbie, too." Gertie came waddling over and the two checked each other out.

Gertie took Robbie, too, over to the water bowl that some Pine Avenue residents keep in their back yard. She took a drink. He took a drink. It looked like all was bliss and love at first sight.

All of a sudden, Robbie, too, attacked Gertie. She defended herself. The quacking was deafening. Feathers were flying.

"Stop it! Quit it!" Ann Marie said, stamping her feet and herding Robbie into the water. He plopped off the bank and began gliding around in the canal looking like a post card.

Gertie soon joined him and the two swam peacefully around together.

"He didn't have a pond or even a pool where he came from," Thorpe said. "You happy, fellow? You happy, Gertie?" he asked with a huge smile.

As if on cue, the pair began quacking away and at last report appeared to be getting along nicely.

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