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Duck becomes New Durham's resident celebrity

Freddie-Jack, a Facebook sensation, is used to being the center of attention, whether with his family or the fans who come by to see him on a regular basis. He loves his pool and mirror in his New Durham front yard, and seems equally comfortable on the lap of his human, Maureen Nelson, close to his big brother Robbie Nelson. (Photo by Cathy Allyn) (click for larger version)
October 15, 2020
NEW DURHAM — Celebrity comes to few; in New Durham, it has come to one with feathers. You see, Disney has Donald, and insurance has Aflac, but around here, Freddie-Jack the duck rules the roost.

"People stop constantly," said Freddie-Jack's human mother Maureen Nelson. "They are always pulling over, asking questions about him, taking his picture."

In a rural area, where lots of people keep fowl, how did one pet duck that reigns over his front yard get so famous?

Nelson shrugs and says, "He's a celebrity here for some reason."

Freddie-Jack, often referred to by his family as Freddie or "Frederick when we're fooling around," is used to being a pop idol. Interest in him started in his hatchling days in Milton, where Maureen and husband Don, and sons Robbie, David, and Devon lived for 10 years before moving to New Durham a year ago.

"It was all a joke," Maureen said, explaining how people who had only had cats and dogs suddenly became famous for a duck. "We'd always said that when we got our own house, we'd get a duck."

When the papers were signed, what did Don go out and do?

"He surprised me with the duck egg," Maureen said. "It was a female, and we called her Popcorn."

The family wanted to get their new pet a companion, so Don's best friend, with two brand-new hatchlings in hand, let them take Freddie.

Sadly, Popcorn died a year later, but as it turned out, Freddie-Jack is far happier by himself.

According to Maureen, he has the same personality he had when he emerged from the egg.

"He's a grumpy duck; he just likes to do what he wants to do," she said. "If you don't agree with him, he'll chase and nip you."

And then, of course, there is the ultimate.

"He'll untie your shoes if he's mad," she notes.

It's easy, however, to appease Freddie-Jack.

"When he gets what he wants, he struts off," she added.

The big white duck has been in the limelight since day one. In Milton, the Nelsons lived next door to the school.

"The kids would walk by and see him on the lawn," Maureen said. "That's one reason he caught on, because he was such a big hit with the kids."

She started posting his pictures on Facebook and that's when he rocketed to true stardom.

"Everyone knew who he was, and then when we moved to New Durham everyone here already knew who he was."

That would include people she doesn't even know; they stop to peep at Freddie-Jack just as her friends do.

"We'd look out of the window and a car would pull over, and we'd say, 'What are they doing?' Then we'd realize, and say, 'Oh, they're talking to Freddie.'"

As with anyone else famous on Facebook, his fans keep up with his antics through regular posts.

"You can see how popular he is," Maureen said, "because if I don't post any pictures for a while, they start asking for them."

A Pekin duck, Freddie-Jack cannot fly.

"He thinks he can," Maureen stated. "He gets up on the steps and jumps off and flaps his wings. He thinks he's flying but he's not."

That's one reason he stays in his yard, but there are other incentives for that.

"He prefers to stay with us at his home," Maureen said. "He's very territorial and he loves his pool and his mirror."

Being territorial does not make Freddie-Jack an odd duck. Nor do many of his other behaviors that fans adore.

"He loves looking at his reflection," Maureen said, which is why he has a large mirror on the lawn. "He'll also look into the car body or the wheel rims. In the house, he looks at the front of the stove. He'll look into anything shiny; he thinks its another duck."

Freddie takes care of his reflection like a tom turkey with its flock. Maureen said if someone comes into the yard, he'll run straight to the reflection.

"He wants to protect his duck."

Of course, that's the first thing he does; the Attack Duck sign on the lawn signals what the second thing is.

"We've had some brave people try," Maureen commented drily. "Some kids would walk right onto the lawn and try to pet him; and he'd chase them right out of the yard."

It's not just strangers he'd prefer to steer clear of his territory. "He quacks at birds flying over," Maureen said, "and chases birds, chipmunks, and squirrels out of the yard."

His humans are a totally different story, though. "I always know when Don is almost home," Maureen said, "because Freddie-Jack recognizes his truck and quacks a different quack when he's coming up the road. He's very smart."

Although Robbie no longer lives at home, he visits frequently and Freddie recognizes him at once.

"Freddie knows him right away," Maureen said. "As soon as Robbie gets out of the car, he breaks into a trot to get to him."

Their pet turned 10 in April, and is apt to live another 10 years. He has his routines and thrives on them.

He gets fed in the morning and augments his diet with bugs, worms, and what Maureen calls his "favorite," dirt and rocks. The Nelsons often throw a can of peas or mixed greens into his pool for him.

At night they give him pellets and then he's off to bed in the basement.

"He has a pen and hay down there, and that's where he stays during the winter," Maureen said. "We bring him up in the house in the winter because he likes to have the company. He stands on his towel and hangs out with the family in the living room."

She said last winter they decided to let him outside on a mild day to see how he would react to snow. So, what did Freddie-Jack do?

"He acted like the snow was nothing. He ran over and jumped in his pool," Maureen said. His pool, of course, held a solid block of ice.

"He sat on that block of ice. He didn't care; he was getting into his pool."

Being the photogenic fowl he is, Maureen entered him in the 2021 New Hampshire SPCA Calendar contest, where he received third prize for number of votes in the Other Small Animals category. Each vote cast for Freddie came with a donation to the organization.

"His picture is on the back cover in a collage," Maureen said, noting that calendars can be ordered at nhspca.org.

It's been a happy route so far for Freddie-Jack. Maureen said she tries to explain to people that he's not the sweet little thing people take him for, but his fame continues despite that, or perhaps because of that.

"We keep saying that he's just a duck," she said. "But he's famous. The people in Milton were very upset when we moved."

A duck egg might not have been the most romantic gift ever presented to a new homeowner, but Maureen thought it was "the greatest thing in the world. And then we wound up with Freddie, bought as a joke and turned out to be a celebrity. He's such a silly bird."

Freddie-Jack, for his part, seems more than content with his family and fans.

"We really do love him."

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