A walk by the Mill Stream allows Willamette students to catch a look at the many ducks who spend their days by these waters. After sharing a home for a few years, the ducks’ presence can become quite familiar. However, there are more to the ducks than the average WU student might know.
The majority of the ducks on WU’s campus are mallards, which, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, are the most common waterfowl in the Northern Hemisphere. Mallards need only shallow water, such as the Mill Stream, for feeding and can nest in nearly any climate. Mallards are highly adaptable to human life, thriving in both urban and rural areas.
Given the adaptability of the animal and the mildness of the climate, it is likely that ducks have been living in the Willamette valley for years. However, the first recorded mention of ducks in any area of the Mill Stream was in a 1957 issue of The Collegian. John Johnston, former custodian of Waller Hall and the Law Building, was noted for his consistent feeding of the squirrels on campus. Johnston mentioned that he fed the mallards in the Mill Creek in addition to the squirrels.
The habit of feeding these feathered friends has since continued. The feeding of these webbed-footed fellows depends largely upon the benevolence of kind-hearted individuals, since it has not been institutionalized.
Regardless of who provides their meals, the ducks do seem to enjoy the Mill Stream, as it fits their need for shallow water. Currently, they have been fed consistently for about four years, according to Groundskeeper Dan McConnell.
“[Someone] who took care of the garden started doing it on a rather small scale and from then it has snowballed into what it is now,” McConnell said.
McConnell also said that the ducks are more than happy about this arrangement, as they can often be seen at the Facilities building as soon as the groundskeepers arrive to start their day. They are usually fed corn right by the Mill Stream, near the Facilities building. The money for the ducks’ feed comes largely from donations or from the personal budget of those feeding them.
The ducks are migratory birds. However, because they have been fed for so long, they have set up a bit of a home on WU’s campus. Some ducks leave at night and fly back in morning, in order to be safe from predators, which include hawks, racoons and minks. There are also some ducks who stay on campus despite the dangers of potential predators.
With mating season approaching, McConnell believes the ducks will be more active. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, mallards find a new mate every season,rather than mating for life.
“There are a few nesting couples that stay on campus,” McConnell said, but he believes many will leave for mating season.
One major effect of mating season are the ducklings. However, WU’s campus may not be the safest place for the ducklings. Ducklings tend to be easy prey for predators, because they are easy targets for bigger animals.
“Their quacking is the most interesting part,” McConnell said. “We can hear them all day long, just talking to each other. They are a nice feature to have on campus.”
From their waddling to their quacking, these mallards are definitely noticeable. The ducks were, are and will continue to be a distinct and unforgettable part of the WU community.