To Deuce of Clubs index page To Write index page Autographed copies of Adventures with the Mojave Phone Booth are now available!

Duck Diapers

by Deuce of Clubs

(First published in Planet Magazine, 06jun1995)


Tempe resident Nancy Townsend has invented many things. Exhibit One: a little thing called Warm Puppy. It involves a microwave, but I'd really rather not go into details. You can ask her about it yourself when you call to order your duck diapers.

And why in the world would you need duck diapers? For your duck, naturally. Duh! And, fortunately for you, Nancy Townsend is in the process of patenting the world's first disposable duck diaper.

Why would you want a duck? Because ducks are "environmentally perfect pets," says Townsend. She can recite you a whole list of reasons you should have a duck. "They will take care of all of your insects, they kill weeds, they don't kill anything good. They do not hurt grass, flowers, plants, or shrubbery. They'll find 20% of their own food. Ducks can withstand temperature ranges from something like 40 below zero to 120 degrees like we have here, with no outside shelter at all. Doesn't bother them. Ducks carry no diseases. None at all. They need no shots. They don't need medication. Chickens have to have shots and medication. But ducks don't."

Ducks also lay eggs. Townsend's husband takes a couple from the refrigerator to show me. "Delicious!" he says. You eat them? I ask. "Well, they're unfertilized!" says Townsend. I know, I know. But the idea! "I'll admit it bothered me a little at first," she admits. "But I got over it."

You may have seen Nancy Townsend around town. She's the one dressed as Mother Goose, holding a leash that leads to a duck—a duck that is wearing a diaper that matches Mother Goose's dress print. Matilda—that's the duck—starts quacking (or "talking," as Townsend says), as soon as she sees the leash, which hooks to the diaper assembly, which in turn straps around the duck's torso, "so when I pick her up (by the leash), it doesn't hurt. Now, the flying was her idea."

Matilda's duck-walking technique leaves the Chuck Berry method in the dust: first she ducks down (there's really no better word for it) in readiness, waiting for Townsend to pass her and gently tug the leash, at which time she hop-flies ahead, as far as the leash will allow.

It's a routine that attracts a lot of attention, and Matilda loves meeting the public, and makes new friends wherever she goes. "I have found one group of society that absolutely loves Matilda that I didn't expect to: young men. It's incredible!" says Townsend. "Guys that you would not believe, in a group, teenagers, whatever, in a mall, that you would think the last thing they'd do would be to—in front of their friends!—ooh and ahh over an old duck! All the macho goes right out the window! They just love her! They all just go nuts over the duck." So, if a young woman was to have a duck...? Townsend nods and smiles. "Yup."

Townsend thinks of ducks as the great equalizers. "I have found that, believe me, race, creed, color, intelligence, financial status—nothing makes any difference when it comes to this duck," she says. "Everybody asks the same questions. Is it real? Like it's some robot thing. Is it a duck? I love that. She's all dressed up, sitting on my lap in a cafe, and I get asked, is it tame and is it a pet? No—I was sitting minding my own business when this wild duck came out of the sky and sat in my lap all dressed! Incredible!"

The two have been refused entrance only once. At Rawhide, if you can believe it—a place where horse apples underfoot are completely acceptable, but a duck wearing a diaper is somehow beyond the pale. Guess it ain't that raw. "If I undressed her and threw her over the fence, she'd be fine. There'd be no objection. Apparently it's insurance—in case a horse kicked my duck in the head. Or something."

Sometimes they visit parks with ponds, such as Kiwanis Park, where Matilda swims around and teases all the boy-ducks. "I've had drakes follow her up onto the sidewalk and up on the picnic tables, just totally smitten by this duck. But she doesn't pay any attention to them whatsoever."

So how does a person end up getting so involved with ducks? "Well, I had a duck before, that was drowning in the park," Townsend recalls. "My husband was fishing and this duck was, like, going down for the third time. So he fished it out with his net and brought it home for me to take care of. It lived in the back yard for years." She was hooked.

But that doesn't explain how it end up as a housepet. "One Christmas I thought it would be fun to bring the duck in for Christmas." Christmas duck? Wait a minute.... "No, it wasn't dinner time!" she says. "I made this kind of makeshift diaper. It didn't work too well, but I knew I could make a duck diaper. The duck diaper was a good idea. So, over my husband saying, no, Nancy, you are not going to buy a duck, I went and bought another duck at a feed store for two bucks. And proceeded to invent the diaper holder."

Having a duck in the house didn't sit too well at first with Townsend's two cats. "Even when she was in the cage, the cats would come around and she'd peck 'em on the nose so fast they never even knew what hit 'em. A duck can pick a fly out of the air. Okay? A duck can hit a cat's nose and the cat never knows what happened. So the cat is totally befuddled. It knows, if I go close to this, I get hit, I don't know where it comes from, I don't know how. But then [Matilda] was lonesome, so she had to make up with the cats. So she'd go sleep with them. She'd get closer and closer and they'd wake up and go "AAAAAHHH!" Finally they got used to it. They play with all the same toys now." Do they fight? No way. The cats are completely cowed by the duck. "The cats won't fight with her. If it comes to something dropped on the floor, a toy or anything, that all three of them want—as soon as Matilda says, 'I want it,' they just let her have it."

Matilda doesn't play with just kitty toys, though. She can play a toy piano (she learned in "only two lessons!" beams Townsend) and play soccer. "She's very smart. The minute she knows what I want and that I'll give her a treat—which takes no time at all—she does it. And she does it from then on. They're very much creatures of habit."

Townsend is a walking library of duck knowledge. "I got a lot of books from the library and studied up, because I figured if I started walking around town with a duck, people are gonna ask me questions."

Some of the answers are surprising, such as how Matilda stays clean. "She goes in the bathtub every night, just like we do. Ducks don't need to swim," she says. "That's a fallacy." Or should that be fowl-acy? (Oh right, like I was going to do a whole article on ducks and not make any puns!)

Are ducks affectionate? Well, I was with Matilda for only an hour, and she took to me like a...never mind. But I did experience an especially endearing duck trait known as the Duck Hug: if you hug a duck, it will extend its neck to full length and curve it to fit yours. I never hugged a duck before, but I have now, and I have to say it was a pretty darn agreeable experience.

Nothing near as intense as the bond between a duck and its owner, however. A duck "bonds to you above and beyond anything you can imagine," Townsend says. "No other animal imprints to that degree." One of Townsend's informational duck flyers explains: "A baby duck will imprint on the first large person or thing it sees after leaving the shell. If this is you, you are MOM." This doesn't mean that Matilda will come when called, Townsend admits, though Matilda definitely does know her name. "I can fuss at her from the next room if I hear her getting into something, and she'll stop."

The life expectancy of a duck, as near as Townsend can figure it, is anywhere from 8 to 20 years. Matilda is a full-grown six-month-old mallard. "They do all their growing in the first ten weeks. You can watch a duck grow—it's that fast."

Is there a down side to having a duck as a pet? Is there anything one might want a duck to do that it will not do? "Yeah, shut up," says Townsend's husband.

One would think there'd be Duck Societies of some kind, groups of Duck-as-Housepet enthusiasts, but Townsend isn't aware of any. "I think a few people do [keep ducks in the house], but they haven't met. And that's not...very good. But the diaper thing makes it possible for anybody. Somebody living in a New York apartment could have a duck." (Hmm...a future Seinfeld episode?) "Matilda rides in the car, she can go anywhere, and with the diaper you don't have to worry about stopping or anything. A long-distance trucker could have a duck for a pet!"

Townsend's duck diapers come in all of your basic duck sizes and can be any color or design you want. One of Matilda's favorites is her Phoenix Suns diaper. "I'm a big Suns fan," Townsend says.

Now the most important question: how often do you have to change a duck's diaper? Well, your smaller sized indoor ducks need to be changed only about four times a day—five at the most- -and it takes only about 10 seconds. "You can change a diaper in the car. I've changed a diaper in front of people standing all around looking at her and they didn't even know I did it."

Townsend and Matilda are available to appear at parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, clog dances, whatever. And if you know of any duck clubs or support groups, let her know. My suggestion was that she look on the Web. (Har! OK, last one.) And if you want a duck yourself, she'll let you browse through a duck catalog (yep) that has pictures of ducks of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Just pick what you want and mere days later a fertilized egg will arrive, ready to be hatched. Make sure you're there when the baby duck pops out, and you're guaranteed a friend for life. Or at least for 8 to 20 years.

© Deuce of Clubs

You can get duck diapers from Nancy Townsend at

See also

Duck Ban

To Deuce of Clubs