The Story of Robert: The Central Park Duck


DeTroy Kistner-Kaufman
145 West 55th Street (PH-B)
New York, New York 10019

I went into the park at about 10 a.m. on May 27th (2006) with my German shepherd dog Sailor. He had to be on leash at that hour so we just took a walk around the southern most lake.

We saw the Canada Geese and their goslings. Then we can upon a rather frantic man who begged me to catch this lone duckling that was chirping in apparent distress. I managed to catch the little duck while Sailor stood patiently waiting and watching.

The man, who said his name was Robert, told me that the Canada Geese and their goslings were attacking and killing the baby ducklings. He said they had already killed off all of the little duck’s siblings and he was the only one left. He told me about how he had been running back and forth for a half hour trying to chase away the geese but he wasn’t able to catch the little duck, who couldn’t have been more than a day old, and his mother hadn't been able to protect him from the geese. He said he was exhausted.

Once I had caught him, he begged me to take him home and bring him back when he was bigger and could protect himself. So I carried the little duck home with Sailor watching over us. Robert asked me what I was going to call the duckling. I said, as I had only had him in my hands for 2 minutes, that I didn't know yet, that it was too soon to give him a good name.

Once home, I asked Sailor to lie down and he did and I put the little duckling on his back and he, who had been calling and calling for help and for his mother, immediately settled down and relaxed in Sailor's deep rich fur and closed his eyes and rested very contentedly.

Photo courtesy of Detroy J. Kistner

I thought about a name for the duckling and decided who better to name him after than the nice man who came to the little hatchling's rescue? So I named him "Robert." Of course I have no idea whether this is indeed a male or a female duck. However, if Robert is a hen, the name could easily be changed to "Roberta."

Having named the duckling, I emailed Barry Koffler at and asked him what I could feed a baby duckling as it was Memorial Day Weekend and many things were closed and I didn't think the average NYC pet shop would have feed for a baby duckling. He got right back to me and told him to give him hardboiled egg yolks until I could get proper feed for him.

I emailed Lucy Danziger in Connecticut (also NYC) and asked for her help to get some proper feed for the duckling, and of course, being a great lover of wildlife, she came through with flying colors.

After two days or so, I put Robert into an upscale (after all this is a superior duckling!) shopping bag with a well-constructed flat bottom and took him back to the park to see if conditions had improved or if I could either find his mother or find a mother duck with ducklings who didn't know how to count and sort of slide him into her brood unnoticed.

There was a man there who loves the ducks and feeds them and knows about them. I approached and Robert was rather boisterous in his shopping bag and the man picked up on the chirps and asked me what I had there? I explained the situation and my plan and he said, "Oh no!! You can't let him loose here! The geese will kill him. And if not the geese, than the herons. No, take him home again."

Well, I wasn't about to let our Robert be killed by any nasty larger bird. So off we trotted home again.

In the meantime, Sailor kindly acted as surrogate mom to the new duckling. When it complained, he was right there to see what was up with his duck. When I had company, I would say to Sailor, "Show them your duck. Show them Robert." And Sailor with all the pride of a new father would lead the visitor to the end of the living room and stick his head in the box. "There is my duck!" he seemed to be saying. He was very proud of his duck. Not many Central Park dogs have their very own duck to care for you know.

When the duckling was out of his box, free to exercise and wander in the living room, he would go right to Sailor and lie down beside him or climb up onto his back and nestle in his fur. He had no fear of Sailor whatsoever. As far as he was concerned, Sailor was his mom.

Each day I would take Robert out on the terrace and put him in a large 18th century iron cooking pot that I had made into a fountain so that Robert could swim and get some sunshine. Sailor would keep watch over him. Sailor was his big furry lifeguard, his concerned "mom."

Photo courtesy of Detroy J. Kistner

When Sailor would get up and run down the hallway to bark at a stranger in the outer hallway, the little duck would go running right behind him chirping madly away to help Sailor protect our home. It was very, very cute.

Sailor was very careful, as he was having problems with his eyesight, not to step on his duckling.

During the brief time when we found and fostered Robert, Sailor passed away. I was heartbroken beyond words at losing my closest friend of eleven and a half years. And when I let Robert out of his box, he immediately went looking and calling for his "gentle giant" of a "mom," Sailor. He looked everywhere for him. He called and called to him. To both of us, it was very sad when Sailor wasn't there to answer him.

A few days later, my son, who now lives in L.A., and his new girlfriend were in NYC and stopped by and they both were just charmed by this little duck.

I photographed Robert after they left and sent a humorous email with Robert and the Champagne bottle and glasses.

Photo courtesy of Detroy J. Kistner

But Robert needed to be in an environment suitable to ducks. He needed a mate. And he needed some protection as he wasn't trained by his natural mom.

I saw the wonderful changes in the Children's Zoo since I had been there years ago with my, then, little boy. It would be the most wonderful home for Robert. He is a survivor. He is a special little duck who has lived in a penthouse with his own private tiny pond and a big furry protector. Sailor would have loved to know and understand that his funny little charge was safe from hawks and other dangers.

I hope that you will find that The Story of Robert is one that will interest children and that you will keep him safe and sound in the lovely Children's Zoo.

Also I hope that his original protector, Robert, will be allowed to come and see him. He is exactly the kind of good person that cares about Central Park's wildlife that you want to acknowledge and foster.

Photo courtesy of Detroy J. Kistner



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