By Diana Foley, WHS Volunteer
Early one Friday morning in June, Donnie the Pekin duck was preparing to fly south—via US Airways. Tucked inside a soft-sided pet carrier, we made our way through the airport, keeping our fingers crossed that Donnie would make it through check-in and security without any trouble. We had called the airline ahead of time to confirm that Donnie would be allowed in the cabin, but knowing that ducks probably aren’t an everyday sight for travelers and airline staff, we proceeded with caution.
Donnie ended up at Reagan National Airport with me after I had spent a day volunteering at the Washington Humane Society’s (WHS) New York Avenue adoption center a few weeks prior. I overheard the front desk staff discussing a duck who had been abandoned outside with a cage nearby, indicating that he had likely been kept as someone’s pet. I told the staff that I was soon leaving for vacation to visit my aunt and uncle in Florida, and if Donnie couldn’t find a home—and if I could get him on the plane—I’d take him with me. My aunt and uncle are “bird people” and have been adopting rescued ducks, parrots, and other birds for 20 years. In fact, Donnie makes the third Washington Humane Society bird who has come to live with them. (The first was a Cockatoo who needed special care and the second was a one-eyed Cockatiel rescued by the WHS Humane Law Enforcement team.) I thought it was more than a coincidence that Donnie showed up at the shelter just before my trip.
Luckily for me, Donnie turned out to be a quiet traveling partner who didn’t draw too much attention—at least not at first. At check-in, we received a couple of smiles and strange looks when people peeked into our carrier, but Donnie quickly received his pass to board and we were off to the security line. When it was our turn to enter one of the new body scanners, a security officer approached and advised me that I would need to remove my cat from the carrier so the carrier could be inspected. I replied, “It’s not a cat. It’s a bird—well, a duck, actually.”
The security team, understandably curious, told us we’d need to go to the room off to the side and remove Donnie from his carrier so it could be inspected. At this point we started to attract attention from other travelers in the security line, and Donnie was even mistaken for a celebrity as someone called out, “Look! It’s the Aflac duck!” (perhaps if we had played along Donnie could have gotten us upgraded to first class!). Once in the security room, Donnie easily hopped out of his carrier and stood on the table while his carrier was examined. He was surprisingly calm through the entire process, and within a few seconds the security guards were petting him and talking to him, and Donnie was enjoying the attention. Donnie definitely added some unexpected excitement to the day—we heard one of the security officers remark that he couldn’t wait to go home and tell his wife that he checked the “Aflac duck” through security!
Donnie was the ideal passenger on the two-hour flight to West Palm Beach, sleeping quietly in his carrier tucked safely under my seat. After landing, he was greeted by a warm Florida rain while we waited for the rental car that would take us to his new family.
Soon Donnie arrived safely and comfortably at his new permanent home on Coconut Boulevard, much to the excitement and anticipation of his new “mom” and “dad.” He was placed in the large outdoor aviary, where he will remain for several weeks as he adjusts to his new place and matures. Still a baby, he would not yet be safe freely roaming the yard, but once he’s ready, he’ll join the small flock of other rescued ducks who spend their days peacefully enjoying the lush property, chasing bugs and lizards, and seeking shade under the coconut and banana trees. Donnie’s new mom is retired and spends the days tending to her birds’ needs, including providing daily meals of homemade duck food and fresh water in their very own kiddie pools, and tucking them into the aviary each night to keep them safe from predators.
Donnie has already made a new friend—a female Muscovy duck, the matriarch of the flock, who was one of the first rescued ducks to join the family 20 years ago. She is now too old to roam the entire yard freely, and will be Donnie’s perfect companion, teaching him the ropes during his first few weeks in the aviary. It is already clear that Donnie has a long and happy life ahead of him in his very own tropical paradise.