There are few things in the natural world that frighten me. I certainly do not consider myself brave or courageous in any way, but I’d like to think that walking the wilds for 30-something years now has made me aware of the dangers and the ways of avoiding them. I am cautious, I am vigilant, and I will go anywhere, so long as the place has birds. But there is one thing I would rather avoid at almost all costs – swimming in murky waters. I hate, absolutely hate, to not know what is below me when I swim. It makes me very nervous to have my head above the water, feel a slight movement at my dangling feet and not know if this was just a bit of vegetation or the bow wave of godzilla approaching from below. No way, no go, absolutely not. Unless crossing a murky stream was the only way of getting into the territory of a Banded Pitta, a purely hypothetical situation at present. Then I might consider it. Might.
This fear of the dark and deep is the reason why I am happy and grateful every day I wasn’t born a duck. Seriously, ducks must be the toughest creatures ever, the Chuck Norrises of the bird world, because they endure this thing all the time.
I am reminded of the ducks’ perilous and arduous existence on each family outing to Heidelberg Zoo. Despite being an ordinary family with the usual interests in elephants, lions, tigers and the likes (there are sadly no Banded Pittas at Heidelberg Zoo), there is one feature that has been our main attraction and focus for the last few months: the duck pond. This is especially true for my toddler son, who will rush there past the elephant enclosure and without giving the tigers as much as a casual glance. You might think now that it is due to his birder genes being hard at work drawing him there, but you’d be mistaken. He doesn’t go there for the ducks, but for the fish.
For some reason my son is absolutely into fish, and the duck pond might hold ducks of various species and sorts and shapes and colours, and pink flamingos too. But it also harbours carp of considerable dimensions who will compete with anything to get to some of the duck pellets tossed into the pool by unsuspecting children.
And I am forced to face my fears once more.
The Duck Pond of Heidelberg Zoo with camp Crystal Lake in the background
Little did Woody realize he was being watched – from below.
All is peaceful, all is quiet. And then comes the duck food:
First documented case of Anatidaephobia in fish
It was not until I turned to the next aviary of the zoo that I came to comprehend the true horror of the grasscarp pond: they are fattening the fish for slaughter!