For the Birds Radio Program: Donald Duck
Donald Duck (Recording of
Yesterday was the 54th birthday of the most famous duck in the world, and today just happens to be my little daughter Katie’s half birthday–that is, it’s exactly half a year since she was four, and exactly half a year until she turns five. Katie has waited for a long time to talk on the radio, and today is it–because today I’m going to talk about
(Katie says, “Donald Duck”)
Donald Duck was conceived when Walt Disney heard Clarence Nash reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as a flustered duck on a Los Angelos radio station. Donald’s gestation period is not known, but he was born on June 9, 1934, as a supporting character in The Wise Little Hen. The first film to explore Donald’s hot temper was Orphans’ Benefit, which catapulted him to stardom. Unlike the parents of most birds, Walt Disney definitely didn’t lay an egg with this duck.
Donald, of course, is supposed to be a Pekin Duck–a white, domesticated breed of our common, everyday Mallard. The early Donald had a long bill–similar to a Northern Shoveler’s–but with time and maturity, his bill has shrunk. Donald is less portly than many domesticated ducks, but he still can’t fly– perhaps the Disney animators keep his wings clipped, or perhaps they limit filming him to summers while he’s molting.
Tragically, unlike all other ducks, Donald lacks the ability to swim. Fortunately, he does have a unique boat-building talent, which he demonstrated in at least a couple of Chip ‘n Dale cartoons. And he shows a few other differences from your run of the mill farm ducks. For one thing, he’s the only bird on record to sprout facial hair–a mammalian feat he accomplished in the 1945 film, No Sail. For another thing, he can change color– from livid blue when he’s angry to beet red when he’s humiliated in front of Daisy. And he does one thing that no other bird known to man has ever done–he carries money.
Real farm ducks were originally domesticated in China or south-eastern Asia before recorded history. Ancient Romans collected eggs from wild Mallards and hatched them under domestic chickens. Although wild Mallards don’t breed in captivity, artificially hatched Mallards do. Wild male Mallards are notoriously casual in their selection of mates–there are records of Mallards mating with just about every species of duck and even geese. A recent paper in the journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union was titled “Multiple Paternity in a Wild Population of Mallards”–the authors found that fully 48% of the Mallard broods that they examined were fathered by more than one male. And domestic ducks are even more indiscriminate, so it’s not surprising that Donald Duck has been recorded flirting with a variety of creatures, most notably and bizarrely in another 1945 film, The Three Caballeros, where he was found leering at a group of human females sunning on a tropical beach.
One of the greatest complications in Donald’s life is due to another characteristic of Pekin ducks–the females often lay their eggs in the wrong places, and overall they make very poor mothers. This explains why Donald so often ends up taking care of his three nephews–Huey, Dewey, and Looie. His life would be much sweeter if only he had a girl like Katie, instead.
This is Katie Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”