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ANNEAR TO THE GROUND

Canada geese on the Esplanade ‘adopted’ a wayward white duck, and now they’re all best friends

MassWildlife expert says the white duck is a domestic species.

A group of Canada geese has "adopted" a wayward white duck along the Charles River Esplanade.
A group of Canada geese has "adopted" a wayward white duck along the Charles River Esplanade.Esplanade Association


Stewards of the Esplanade say a real-life version of P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book, “Are You My Mother?," has been playing out on the banks of the Charles River.

Sometime in June, staff from the Esplanade Association noticed a wayward white duck of mysterious origin lumped in with a group of Canada geese in the public park near Back Bay, no other bird like it in sight.

Now, several months later, the duck and its stark white feathers and orange bill continues to stand out among the black, white, and beige birds it’s been associating with — and has apparently become a welcome addition to a goose family.

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“It’s as if he’s a member of the tribe, eating, swimming, and walking around,” said Michael Nichols, executive director of the association, a nonprofit that maintains the park space in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. “It’s really as if they’ve kind of adopted him."

The running theory has been that the duck may have traveled up river, possibly from a beach area near the Boston University bridge, where a large contingent of waterfowl is known to live.

But Marion Larson, chief of information and education for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said that might not be the case. The bird, she said, is a domestic species of duck, not a wild species.

“It may have been someone’s pet” and they let it go, Larson speculated. “Maybe there are some domestic ducks that laid an egg on the Charles River. I don’t know.”

Although it certainly may seem peculiar to see a duck pretending to be a goose, Larson said the fact that the white duck latched onto the other birds actually isn’t strange at all.

“It’s called imprinting: a form of learning in which an animal gains its sense of species identification and behavior,” Larson said in an e-mail. “Basically if the bird or animal is young enough and exposed to a different species that ‘parents’ it, the young bird or animal will see it as a parent and adopt many of the behaviors.”

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Larson said she happened to see the duck herself during a recent kayaking trip on the lower part of the Charles River.

“I thought that was kind of odd to see that one white duck, and I wondered what its story was,” Larson said.

If perhaps it was someone’s pet, Larson said this is a good opportunity to remind people not to abandon animals in the state’s parks, “thinking they will be OK.”

Wherever it came from, it’s become clear that the geese have had no qualms with taking the bird in as one of their own.

Nichols said the relationship between the white duck and the geese has been captivating visitors who stumble upon them while out enjoying the park. People have sent in photographs of the odd pairing, he said — both out of curiosity about whether it’s normal for the white duck to be waddling through the grass with the geese, and out of pure joy.

A wayward white duck has been "adopted" by Canada geese on the Charles River Esplanade.
A wayward white duck has been "adopted" by Canada geese on the Charles River Esplanade.Esplanade Association

“A couple of folks were concerned, wondering if it was sort of a symptom of a larger problem,” he said. “But for the most part, it’s just been people really excited and happy about it.”

The group’s haunts are mostly within the bounds of the Esplanade, including the lagoon areas popular with canoers and kayakers; on the grassy lawn in front of the Hatch Shell; and — fittingly — near Night Shift Brewing’s Owl’s Nest beer garden. Other times, they’ve been seen cruising along the river in a perfect line, the white duck smack-dab in the middle of its feathered companions.

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“One kind-of solo, white duck, out of place," Nichols said. “It’s a very white duck amidst a setting that is almost entirely Canadian geese.”

For now, the duck doesn’t have an official name. But some of the staff from the Esplanade Association have been referring to it as “Essie” — short for Esplanade. Nichols said if park users want to come up with an alternative, they’re all ears.

“We await the public’s guidance on what he or she should be called,” he said.

How about Ryan Gosling?


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.