Get to know Howard: Chatham’s resident duck

By Jade Marzolf

If you’ve seen the brown duck hanging out by the pond, or in his new house on the water, you may have wondered: How did he get here? Is he going to make it through the winter?

Kristen Spirl, the Grounds Department manager at Chatham University, knows everything you want to know about him.

Howard was named after the 1986 movie “Howard the Duck,” which is about a humanoid duck who must prevent an alien invasion on Earth.

He ended up here after a family changed its mind about what to do with him.

“As the story goes, he was purchased for a holiday dinner last spring,” Spirl said, “but after feeding the duck, [the family] could not bring themselves to butcher Howard and dropped him off at our pond.”

Photo by Jade Marzolf.

Howard is a Khaki Campbell duck. This breed is domestic and these ducks’ larger frames and heavier weights make them poor fliers. Their feathers are covered in a waterproof substance that keeps them warm and dry.

Chatham’s carpenters, Dan Ogrosky and Joel Minjock, worked with painter Cory Carmen to build Howard’s home on the pond. It took about two days of intermittent work to finish, and it resembles Mellon Mansion. The house is not heated because after research, facilities found Khaki Campbell ducks want a space where they can keep their feet out of the water.

“They do not need heated shelters,” Spirl siad.

Facilities staff and community members all care about Howard’s well being. Howard is friendly and not a picky eater, but Spirl requests no one feed him (or the pond’s fish) bread or any food not specifically made for them. Howard forages for insects around the pond, and he also receives a mixture of meal worms and duck food ordered from a local garden store. Pond wildlife is monitored, and the water is periodically tested to ensure its inhabitants remain healthy.

“The wrong food can make the ducks and fish sick,” Spirl said. “Please do not feed the fish during the winter. Their digestive systems slow considerably once the temperature drops to freezing.”

Howard’s house on the campus pond. Photo by Jade Marzolf.

To protect the safety of Howard, Kitty (the campus cat) or any domestic or wild animals on campus, don’t litter, Spirl added. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up and dispose of it properly.

Spirl invites anyone who has further questions to email her at [email protected] or direct message her on Instagram @chathamarboretum. You also follow @chathamarboretum and @chathamu on Instagram to see more of Howard.