The Chicago Tribune does a story on my ducks

April 1, 2020 • 9:30 am

UPDATE: Mary emailed me saying that she’d gotten a lot of email from people saying, in essence, “Thank you for making me cry and feel more hopeful this morning.”  Such is the power and value of good journalism!



A few days ago, Colleen Mastony, the Director of Media Relations at the University of Chicago, contacted me, saying that she’d heard about my duck-feeding activities as well as the letter from our Provost and President allowing me access to Botany Pond during the lockdown. Colleen used to work for our biggest local paper, the Chicago Tribune, and wanted to pitch the story to the Trib, saying that she thought it would make a nice “feel-good” story for these troubled times.  She wrote up a prospectus and sent it to her former colleague Mary Schmich, who writes a regular column for the Trib.

Schmich is a big presence in Chicago media (indeed, nationally): she writes a regular, widely-read, and nationally syndicated column for the paper for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. On top of that, she wrote the comic strip “Brenda Starr, Reporter” from 1985 to 2011, and penned one of the most famous “advice” pieces of our era, a column called “Wear Sunscreen“, incorporating the advice that she’d give were she asked to deliver a commencement address. That column became an eponymous book and was turned into a piece of mix music by Baz Luhrmann, which you can see and hear here (I can’t find the column online, but its words are in the video).

At any rate, Mary liked the idea of the story, interviewed me about Honey and the ducks over the phone, and, two days ago, appeared at the pond with a Tribune photographer, Terrence James. Mary asked lots of questions while Terrence snapped Honey, Dorothy, and Wingman, who cooperated by eating duck food for the camera and then preening on the center “bathtub ring”. He also photographed me feeding the birds. Fortunately, no other ducks showed up to cause trouble.

After those two interviews, Mary texted me with more questions: she was punctilious about getting all the details correct. And then, that same day (yesterday), her story on Honey, me, the ducks, and the University went online. And today it’s in the paper version of the paper. If you’re in the U.S. you’ll be able to access the story from the links below, but if you’re overseas those links won’t work and you’ll have to use this “wayback” link.

Yanks can read the online story, complete with two photos, at either the Tribune link below or the Effingham Daily News link below that (click on the screenshot).  Note that you can get one free Tribune story per month, but can subscribe for only 99 cents for three months.

I won’t reproduce the story; see it by clicking on these headlines or on the link above.



from the Effingham Daily News:

Mary did a terrific job synthesizing everything and giving it the necessary background, atmosphere, and feel-good patina (see the ending). I went down to the pond a few minutes ago and told the ducks, but they seemed more interested in their mealworms than in their newfound fame.

The original online story had two photos by Terrence (below), but the new online story, as well as the paper edition, has only the photo of me. Here they both are, along with the Trib’s original online captions:

Jerry Coyne, a widely respected evolutionary biologist and an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago, feeds migratory ducks on Botany Pond on the University of Chicago campus March 30, 2020. He feeds the ducks three times a day.(Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Here, in order from left to right, are Dorothy, Wingman, and Honey:

Migratory ducks return to Botany Pond on the University of Chicago campus in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where they are seen preening on March 30, 2020. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Finally, I sneaked a peek at the neighbor’s version in front of their door, and found that the story occupies half of page three. This is what you see when you turn the front page. Truth be told, I know why they used a photo of me but they should have had one of the ducks!

Anyway, now that Honey and her friends are famous, perhaps it will lead to more people visiting the pond. That carries the risk of them feeding bad stuff to the ducks, but the University has promised me a swell new “Do not feed the ducks” sign that will go up by the pond next week. It will say “Please do not feed the ducks. They are well taken care of” (my wording). More on that later.

44 thoughts on “The Chicago Tribune does a story on my ducks

  1. Congratulations, Jerry! It’s good to see you recognized for your good works. It’s too bad Honey, Dot and Wingman can’t read the story. They’re famous, and they don’t even know it.

  2. GREAT story! Great PIC! The world now knows how amazingly ducky you are, Jerry! Feed on, crouton!

  3. What a great piece! Brought a tear to my eye. Watching the local wildlife is a great consolation in these dark days. A goldfinch landed on the windowsill next to my desk this morning and seemed to wonder why we were all stuck inside. Ho hum.

  4. Read the story at 5:30 this morning, loving the photo of PCCE flinging the mealworms with relish (deliberate misplacing of modifier!). Funny, though, Ms. Schmich makes no mention of ‘Faith vs. Fact.’

  5. I’ve always loved “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young”. It is high praise that Vonnegut was proud that it has been misattributed to him. She did a marvelous job on a worthwhile story.

  6. This is great and suitably recognises the care and affection that you’ve shown these lucky ducks over the past few years.

  7. Everyone but the East German judges would score you a “10” for sticking the follow-through in that pic.

  8. Of course, “no other ducks showed up to cause trouble.” By now, they all know that Honey is the star, and you are her Publicist.

  9. Linux is soooo proud of you! He tells all his friends that he knows that famous Jerry!
    Claude et AnneMarie te disent: Bravo!!!

  10. A classic “human interest story,” but with ducks too. Good to know that fame has not gone to the Honey’s head. She looks down her bill at such human fripperies.

  11. Well done and congratulations, Prof Coyne(E). I’m sure stories like yours will encourage many others to do likewise with their local wildlife.

  12. There wouldn’t have been a feel-good story without something to feel good about. And it’s something that isn’t just a one-off reaction to the current little global problem, but the outcome of four years’ work and commitment on PCC(E)’a part.

    Congratulations Jerry; let’s hope it leads to more publicity for some of your other ventures. Starting with this site.

  13. Sad thing about the story is that the Tribune will soon be dead and Schmich will be gone. Alden Capital, the private equity destroyer of journalism, is the largest shareholder of the Tribune with about 35%. They will gut the paper and get rid of high priced talent like Schmich.

  14. Hooray for this great story! I’m especially happy to be a Tribune subscriber when they include stories like this.

  15. It is odd that you felt the need to send your begging message to Zimmer and Lee, since the UofC campus as such remains open – only buildings are closed

    It is also strange that Zimmer is sympathetic to ducks – he certainly isn’t sympathetic to grad students or undergrads, and is grotesquely unsympathetic to university staff – including nurses in the Medical Center.

  16. Thia makes me happy. Last year my wife and I visited Chicago from New Zealand (glad we did it last year!). We prioritised the Chicago architecture, a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and the ducks at Botany pond. Not necessarily in that order.

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