ROME, Ga. (AP) — As soon as they spot one of their red vehicles, Ozzie and Harriet and 22 of their fine feathered friends come waddling, flapping or gliding up from Silver Creek to greet them with open mouths.
“It’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen,” Rome resident Joe Manzella said Tuesday (Jan. 7) of the 24 ducks and geese he and his wife, Darcy Manzella, have befriended in the heart of Lindale for the past year. “If they’re not there, I’ve got a duck call I use, but they usually all show up before too long.”
They’re fed dry cat food — instead of bread — every afternoon without fail between 4 and 4:30 p.m. near the old mill where Manzella worked for 30 years.
He said he used to see ducks and geese out there all the time when he worked in the mill’s dye shop, but never paid them much mind.
“There was a lady who worked in the clinic who even had pens built for them,” the Rosemont Park resident said. “She would not let anyone harm those ducks. She was devoted to them. You might say my wife and I took over that position, but the mill’s been closed for over 20 years now, so they’re not the same ducks now.”
He said he just happened to be driving by one day in his retirement and saw them in the creek. He had bread in his hand and decided to stop.
“We used to take the kids out there to feed them bread, but my son did some research and found out bread is not good for ducks,” said Manzella, who met his wife more than 11 years ago when they were hired by Walmart at the same time. “We switched to cat food and they just gobble it up, but they usually run back to the creek to get water in their mouth because I guess they need water to dissolve the food.”
In the past year, they have come to know each one enough to give them names. Without even having them in front of them, the Manzellas were able to rattle off the description of each one and their special moniker over the phone.
Many of them are named after famous comedy teams. Others just by their personalities or physical descriptions.
There’s Squeaky who doesn’t quack — just squeaks. There’s the two Chinese geese Ozzie and Harriet, the four call ducks Larry, Moe, Curly and Shemp, the two white Pekin ducks Mutt and Jeff, and a third one of the same breed known as Aflac.
Aflac — because he looks so much like the one in the insurance commercial — is the only one Joe’s been able to actually pick up without too much trouble. Because of that, it’s probably his favorite, he said.
“If I get behind him and kind of sneak up on him, I can pick him up and he won’t flap away like the others,” he said with a chuckle. “One green-headed duck was named Mistake after I tried to pick it up and it pooped on me.”
If it’s nice out, the Manzellas will sit on a bench and watch the ducks for about 30 minutes after they’ve been fed. They noticed Squeaky has been sitting on a nest with 14 eggs for the past six weeks, but they know the eggs will never hatch because it’s been too cold.
From time to time, they’ll lose a duck, usually to a car. It’s hard to watch, Joe said.
“The new ducks don’t know what to do and cross the road. If somebody doesn’t stop for them, they will get run over,” he said. “I take them off the road and try to dispose of them the best I can. We lost a Muscovy duck to illness just two weeks ago. That was Tony. We could tell he was sick. We think he got washed down the creek after that heavy rain.”
He said that although they typically spend $15 to $20 per week on the cat food for the ducks, it’s worth the joy they get out of spending time with them.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said, adding they would love help feeding them. “We like to talk to them and it really seems like they know what you’re saying sometimes. The ducks are smarter than people give them credit for.”