About speaking to ducks

Flying ducks

I know you’ve been waiting for it.

Here is the promised wee talk about ducks. It’s been sitting in my blog drafts for a couple of days waiting for a moment to finish it.

“What do you do when you see a duck?” I asked Jane, as I came in from work the other day. “You know, you’re walking alongside a stream and you spot a duck. What do you do?”

“QUACK!!” said the lovely Jane, quacking at me.

“What about a sheep?”

“BAAAAAA!!” bleated Jane accomodatingly.

“And a cow?”

“MOOOOO!!” obliged Jane.

You see, I do the same. Or at least I did until about a week ago when I realised that … I quack at ducks.

In St Andrews I park down by the Kinness Burn, a wee stream (or in Scots ‘burn’) that effectively runs the length of the town, and near the small footbridge that crosses the Kinness Burn live around 50 or so ducks. Yes, I counted them. I counted them a couple of days ago when I was on my way home and came across a scene from that unmade Hitchcock film “The Ducks”.

So you can see that on my way to work and on my way home from work I have more than your average office worker’s opportunity for meeting ducks. And just the other week I realised that whenever I see one of the ducks I always quack at the first one that I see.

But why?! What is it about animals that makes us want to communicate with them? It’s not as though they try to communicate with us. It’s not like when ducks approach us you hear them say things like “Awright!” or “How do you do?” So why do we try to communicate with them?

And, as Jane so ably demonstrated, it’s not just with ducks. We moo at cows, baa at sheep, meow at cats, and bark at dogs. I say “we”, I asked a couple of people at the weekend what they do when they see a duck.

I think to myself, Oh look there’s a duck!

was disappointingly the most common answer. Of the three people I asked.

Last week, as I was walking home, I realised that I’d stopped quacking at the ducks. Instead I was saying things like “Hello Mr Duck”.

Like that was a less mad thing to do!? So I’ve begun quacking at them again. I think it’s just the way things are meant to be.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 47 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

5 thoughts on “About speaking to ducks”

  1. You made us wait six days for that?

    Anyway I have, in the past, noticed with interest that it is only ‘English speaking’ sheep who say “Baaaa” (and only English speaking people who say “Baaaa” back). Gaelic and Welsh sheep (and natives) both say “Mehhh”…

    I’m not sure how this works outside of the British isles though.

    The way to find out is to acertain what the local translation of “Baa, baa, black sheep” is. In both Gaelic and Welsh it begins “Meh, meh…”. I have a vague recollection that it begins in this manner in French too.

  2. I can’t remember about sheep, but French ducks go “quan-quan”.

    Anun goes “ti-ti-ti” (that’s not Spanish – that’s just her) at anything with fur and four legs, (or wearing a baby-grow), and then usually tries to pat it. She tried it with a fox one night.

    She gets upset when I “ti-ti” spiders though.

  3. Did you see the item on the BBC News website the other day that Cows also ‘have regional accents’?

    Cows have regional accents like humans, language specialists have suggested.

    They decided to examine the issue after dairy farmers noticed their cows had slightly different moos, depending on which herd they came from.

    John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at the University of London, said regional twangs had been seen before in birds …

    Surely that should be “regional twangs had been heard before in birds”!!

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