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Ducks step out downtown

Thu., Jan. 22, 2009, midnight

More waddlers spotted in nontraditional habitat

There have been numerous sightings of orange feet and an increase in waddling downtown this winter. No, we’re not talking about Spokanites trying to walk off the extra holiday pounds. We’re talking about ducks.

The quackers have been spotted all over downtown – from Howard Street near the Steelhead Bar and Grill to Starbucks on Main Avenue and the middle of Riverside Avenue – nontraditional duck habitat.

One possible explanation: The ducks are the same ones that gained fame last summer as ducklings, and they’re ditching the Spokane River in an attempt to reach the ledge they were born on.

Last summer, a mother duck hatched 10 eggs on the ledge outside a second-story office window on Riverside Avenue. Barely two days old, the yellow ducklings got ready to jump off the building, eager to join their mom and walk down to the river.

After one duckling hit the pavement 10 feet below, Joel Armstrong, a senior loan officer at Sterling Savings, grabbed a cardboard box and raced downstairs.

On the sidewalk he caught the ducklings midair, corralled them into the box and carried them down to the river, with the mother waddling behind, quacking her appreciation. Several of Armstrong’s co-workers helped out, and the story went around the world.

So does Armstrong think these are “his” ducklings?

“I truly hope they are, but I’m also a realist,” he said. “I understand the enormous amount of ducks in the Spokane area, so these are probably not the same ducks.”

He’s hoping the mother duck will return to the ledge outside his window this spring.

“It was very safe place for her to nest, but the jumping part for the ducklings was dangerous,” said Armstrong, who’d be happy to stand in as catcher once again.

Since the story broke, Armstrong has received an enormous amount of duck paraphernalia, including shirts, stickers, certificates, cards and letters, and a trip to the Peabody Hotel in Orlando, Fla. The Peabody is famous for its resident ducks.

Is Armstrong by chance an Oregon Ducks fan?

“No, I am and always will be a diehard Cougar!” Armstrong wrote in an e-mail.

Another, more likely reason the ducks are wandering downtown, is that people feed them. Some businesses put birdseed on the sidewalk, and the mallard standing outside Starbucks last week received its fair share of muffin pieces and cookie crumbs.

Armstrong, however, does not plan to put out birdseed to lure the duck back.

“I will let her come back on her own,” he said. “I think feeding the ducks makes them dependent on humans, and it creates a nasty mess for my kids and other visitors at Riverfront Park.”

The Spokane Parks and Recreation Department last year asked people to stop feeding bread to ducks in city parks. Bread provides inadequate nutrition, and the large duck population was hurting water quality in some ponds. In an effort to reduce the duck population, some were adopted out to local families.

Is Armstrong tired of telling his duck story by now?

“Not at all,” he said. “I enjoy making others happy by sharing a positive story. I am a positive thinker with Christian faith.”

Reach Pia Hallenberg Christensen at 459-5427 or

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