Would Honey the Duck Come Back This Spring?

Two ducks floating in a body of water.

In addition to the human dramas that play out daily in our towns and cities, the wildlife that live among us have their own dramas, too. And sometimes those dramas intertwine. A university biologist in Chicago, whose office looks out on the school’s Botany Pond, has watched and looked after a particular migratory duck who has returned to the pond for each of the last five years. Mary Schmich, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune, has documented this intertwined drama of the duck and the professor several times; this March 2021 column is the latest chapter of the ongoing tale.

Read it here.


1. Is Schmich’s essay more about Honey or about Professor Coyne? Or is it more about all of us? She includes details about Coyne that seem unrelated to the main story of his engagement with Honey, the other ducks, and the university’s Botany Pond. Why might Schmich have included such details? Explain your reasoning. What point is she making in her conclusion? Were you at all surprised by it? Why or why not?

2. At several points in the essay, Schmich’s interviewee, Professor Coyne, anthropomorphizes the ducks—that is, he ascribes human features and characteristics to them—and Schmich anthropomorphizes them, as well. For example, Coyne gives his favored ducks names, and Schmich refers to when Honey “gave birth” to ducklings. Identify at least one more example of anthropomorphizing in the essay. Do such descriptions help  you feel more sympathetic to the ducks? Less sympathetic? More sympathetic to Coyne? Less? Why or why not? Explain your responses.

3. LET’S TALK. Schmich points out that many people have dealt with the pandemic by binge-watching Netflix, while Coyne acknowledges that his “binge” is ducks. What was your binge during the most intense period of shutdown? What activities (sedentary or otherwise) did you rely on heavily? Did you explore new interests that you might not have pursued if the pandemic never happened? Are there any new habits or routines that you have kept since Covid restrictions began to lift? Discuss responses to these questions with a few classmates and enjoy the variety of responses that you are likely to hear. Do any patterns emerge?

4. LET’S WRITE. Schmich’s essay raises questions about human intervention with non-domesticated animals that live in, and travel through, our cities. How much, where, and when should humans intervene in wildlife affairs? What kind of intervention, if any, do you support? For example, is it desirable to commit public resources to helping migratory birds? How about birds that are full-time residents of parks and public areas? Write an essay responding to these questions, and include any other considerations that you find relevant. Provide examples from your own town or region.

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