Swooping In: Environmental Group from Afar Makes Off with Duck Pond Ducks

Duck battle cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

This appears to be a story that I made up. But it isn’t. It is what happened in late December of 2019 at the Duck Pond.

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People who have already arrived in the beautiful Hamptons have often fought to prevent those who come later from horning their way in. The Indians fought the English settlers. The New York City social set wanted to keep out Jews and entertainers. And recent “new money” arrivals have walled in their properties with hedgerows and gates to keep just about everybody out.

But nothing, I think, compares to the environmentalist kerfuffle that happened at the Duck Pond on David’s Lane in East Hampton this past December.

Four times in seven days, The East Hampton Star reported, a gaggle of environmentalists from “UpIsland” conducted what some described as surprise attacks. They swooped in aboard station wagons and SUVs with binoculars, nets and waders to splash knee deep into the pond to capture what they said were sick ducks in need of being netted and taken to safety. Many visitors, local environmentalists and caretakers looked on aghast as this happened. So did the ducks themselves, according to East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society (LVIS) Nature Trail committee head Dianne Benson, nearly all of whom swam off hysterically, she claimed, hoping not to get captured. Each time the particular duck the interlopers were after got netted, Benson said, it fought for a while and then hauled off.

Benson, who was on the scene, said these ducks were traumatized. Who were these human interlopers? Who said they could walk in our pond?

The Duck Pond battlefield is a 24-acre village-owned nature trail, pond and babbling brook that encourages ducks and any other wildfowl to fly in, take up residence and be fed duck food by anybody who wants to do so. There are five parking spaces. Every day the ducks quack and the kids squeal. Adults holding hands can walk across the little wooden footbridges that cross the brooks. There are park benches and tree stumps on which to sit. It’s a happy place. It’s been there for over a hundred years, they say.

And the park is taken care of by the locals. East Hampton Village owns it. The Village Department of Public Works maintains it. The East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society (LVIS) has a Nature Trail committee, headed up by Dianne Benson, which sees to the care and feeding of the creatures—ducks and sometimes swans or egrets or seagulls. And if a creature is injured, the LVIS will call in environmentalist Dell Cullum for advice and guidance.

The first invasion, as it’s been called, took place on December 23 when the folks from Away arrived, as did East Hampton Village Police officers, who said they had been called earlier by the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to alert them of the would-be rescuers arrival, one assume knowing that some locals might try to interfere. The Village Police, Benson said, seemed sheepish about having been for this. But they kept the two sides apart. No punches were thrown.

A woman named Meghan Bambrick said it was she who had sounded the alarm by calling the SCPCA. John Di Leonardo of Malverne—78 miles away, as the crow flies—directed the invasion. He is the Senior Manager, Animals in Entertainment & Grassroots Campaigns at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and also executive director of Long Island Orchestrating for Nature (LION). He wrote on Facebook, “Domestic Fowl are thinking, feeling, individuals, not school science experiment.” He also wrote, referring to the East Hampton duck battle, “Once the ducks have recovered from their injuries, they will be placed together in a private home or reputable, vegan sanctuary where they will be provided shelter and veterinary care and live out their days being loved without any fear of being eaten.”

The ducks were all aflutter as these concerned environmentalists splashed around. Di Leonardo noted, the Star reported, that these were helpless domestic ducks among the wild ducks and said what they took away were a Pekin Duck, a Cayuga duck and a Rouen Duck. Among the maladies he cited were fungal or bacterial infections or badly swollen feet.

Some locals said they should have had name tags—the people from afar, not the ducks— perhaps from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and they should have come with a representative of a local group, maybe the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center, which takes care of wildlife locally. Di Leonardo, addressing this later, said they’d worked with other wildlife rescue organizations before but these ducks were domestic, not wildlife.

Further sniping continued on Facebook and in the local press. Here were some of the comments, the Star reported:

Leave the East Hampton ducks alone. We want to support our local wildlife rescuers—not poachers from up island. They act like they are the champions of the duck world. Who asked you to come to East Hampton?

There was support for the invasion. Well, the end result is the ducks are safe.

Well.

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