Local man takes duck under wing

Written by James Damschroder, The Union Democrat

December 18, 2008

Happy is the ugly duckling of Phoenix Lake.

Living the life of a misplaced Muscovy — a large duck native to Central and South America, and Mexico — Happy is the only one of his kind at the lake.

He was dumped at the lake two years ago, said Steve Vikfors, who lives on the banks of Phoenix Lake and has become Happy’s caretaker.

"He wags his tail when he eats," Vikfors said. "That’s why I named him Happy."

When Happy, who was most likely a barn animal in his earlier life, was dumped at the lake, he was confused by his new and wild surroundings, Vikfors said.

Vikfors began feeding him cat food to help him survive.

"He’s waiting for me to get off my shift and feed him, every day," Vikfors said. "He’s looking a little healthier than when he first got here."

Happy has long claws and a wide flat tail. But the protrusion at the base of his bright-red beak is his most distinguishing and adorably ugly feature.

The lake’s resident Canada and Dutch geese shun Happy because of his differences.

On a recent day, Happy waddled over to a flock of Dutch geese, but they didn’t want to play. They turned their tail feathers to Happy and waddled away, leaving him all alone on the muddy banks of Phoenix Lake.

"He’s a heart-breaker," Vikfors said. "He’s very much the outcast," Vikfors added. "I would say he’s alone 99 percent of the time."

Happy probably will never experience the love of another Muscovy — but at least he’s surviving, which many ducks in his position do not.

Dumping domesticated ducks at ponds and lakes is a major problem, said Harry Morse, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

"It’s very common, unfortunately," Morse said. "It’s amazing some make it through the winter."

Although Muscovy ducks are native to tropical climates, they do adapt to frostier conditions like the winter chill that is sweeping over Phoenix Lake.

Morse said the problem is compounded when ducklings are given to children for Easter. Owners will often dump the ducklings when they become large ducks thinking they’ll survive in the wild, Morse said.

"It’s very cruel to the animal," Morse said