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Melvin Tinkel has the ducks at Albany Landing Apartments literally eating out of his hand. Tinkle distributes 50 pounds of cracked corn a week to the resident waterfowl.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Melvin Tinkel has the ducks at Albany Landing Apartments literally eating out of his hand. Tinkle distributes 50 pounds of cracked corn a week to the resident waterfowl.

Newspaper In Education: Recommended reading
‘Daddy Duck’ keeps waterfowl well-fed
Decatur man helps birds survive drought

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

“Quack, quack, quack,” Mel Tinkel calls, and the ducks waddle out of the pond, quacking.

Ducks come from all sides of the Albany Landing’s 2.5-acre pond. “Daddy Duck,” as his wife Faye nicknamed him, is here. He pours a bag of cracked corn in a row, and ducks devour their breakfast, occasionally quacking with satisfaction. The bump of the bucket makes them jump, but they know they’re safe to fill their hungry stomachs.

After he runs out of corn, he goes to his apartment and returns with a bag of day-old rolls from nearby Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q. The ducks snap up the bread. Some share, some are selfish. A black duck grabs a roll, runs a few feet, drops it and grabs it again before another steals it.

The Tinkels, formerly of Gadsden, moved from Florida to the Southwest Decatur apartment complex last Christmas to be nearer family. He put two birdfeeders outside their apartment and noticed one day that several ducks were eating food that birds knocked from feeders. Soon he was feeding 80 to 100 ducks twice a day.

While residents have long fed the ducks, he saw they were hungry this spring as the drought put its grips on North Alabama. The pond’s feeder spring evaporated, and the water level dropped to the point that the area near his apartment is dry.

The complex had to turn off a water fountain, once a popular duck hangout. At one point this summer, apartment manager Lisa Compton got the city to meter water from a fire hydrant to keep the pond from going dry.

The apartment complex had stocked the pond with fish, and they began dying when temperatures reached triple digits in August. One person caught a 32-pound catfish.

“They (ducks) usually eat algae, but the dry weather eliminated this food source,” said Mel Tinkel, who retired from General Motors. “You could tell they weren’t getting enough to eat.”

Since the ducks are wild, Tinkel believes they would have left without his corn and bread.

Longtime resident Tom Nebrig said the ducks aren’t going anywhere, unless they absolutely have to leave.

“They’ve gotten too fat,” Nebrig said. “They’re fatter and bigger than your usual wild duck. They’ve got it made.”

Nebrig said that’s why the ducks don’t fly to Tinkel when he’s feeding them. They arrive from all parts of the pond, most paddling fast. They rarely fly, unless scared.

The ducks know Mel Tinkel and his voice. They waddle up when they see his car. He and his wife said they’ve enjoyed watching ducklings. They are mostly a hybrid of mallard and Muscovy. Each pair has two or three hatches a year.

Road kill

This familiarity with Daddy Duck has caused difficulties with motor vehicles. When the ducks see him come home, they don’t look both ways before crossing the road. A few have been killed, and it’s not unusual for them to block the road.

“I’ve seen several residents in a hurry, but having to stop and shoo them out of the road,” Compton said.

Compton appreciates Mel Tinkel for feeding the ducks, and said the pond is a main attraction at the 120-unit apartment complex. The pond also attracts blue herrings, egrets and other waterfowl from Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and the Tennessee River.

Mel Tinkel distributes 50 pounds of cracked corn a week, but he said it’s worth the $7.

“Feeding the ducks occupies some time,” said Mel Tinkel. “It’s good to give back to nature. We all deserve a place to eat and live.”

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