April 19, 2017

Nature's Way or Fowl Play?

A tradition of natural selection at OMCA

By OMCA Staff

Staff who have worked at OMCA for more than one springtime know the story—like clockwork, when the weather changes, a mallard pair alights in the Museum gardens, finds a secluded spot, and gets on with the business of hatching ducklings. Staff and visitors alike are delighted by the sight of the adorable brood marching around the Museum for maybe a day or two, until disaster—or maybe just animal nature—strikes.

The herons, who call Lake Merritt and the surrounding habitat home, inevitably descend and, one-by-one, devour the young mallards. This has invariably upset some staff and visitors alike, who’ve wondered why we humans cannot provide some kind of protective services. Alternately, some staff, especially those with science backgrounds, argue that we should not intervene with this natural process.

This discussion isn't new. An article from the Oakland Museum of California’s member magazine, written back in June of 1978, talks about this ongoing conflict between the ducklings and their natural predators. “Should humans intervene in the natural selection process? The issue has partisans on both sides—purists feel that man has no right to alter the natural food chain in any way; others argue that the ‘natural’ environment has been disrupted by buildings, roads, cars, etc. and there should be some form of compensation.”

The 1978 artcle from OMCA's member magazine on "Fowl Play."
The Museum's 1978 member magazine article on "Fowl Play."

It’s especially interesting to see the position that staff took on this issue nearly 40 years ago, and realize that not a lot has changed.

Next time you’re at OMCA, stop by the pond and take a look to see if you can spot any of the hatchlings before they’re all gone.