Did Ben and Jerry, the Blue Ducks Who Married, Really Cause an Extinction?

For a brief time in 2009, the internet was a flutter with the tale of two duck lovers—Ben and Jerry. Many of the articles were brief, but the story was consistent, down to their subtle (and not so subtle) implications.

Blue Ducks — David Hallett/The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust

The story goes like this:

A rare species of duck in the United Kingdom was facing extinction because the two remaining males had fallen for each other, leaving the female, named Cherry, high and dry.

Some leaned more into the sympathy for the female, as if she likely cared all that much anyway. One article from the Scientific American opened with “Why are all the good ducks gay?”

The three birds were together at the Arundel Wetland Centre in Sussex as a part of an initiative to establish a new population of the bird. The two males did shun the female and opt for each other’s partnership instead. And by all accounts, Ben and Jerry were quite keen for, and visibly enthralled with, one another.

Overblown consequences

There’s just one detail none of the articles though to mention: Blue Ducks aren’t native to the UK to begin with.

The Blue Duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) is endemic to New Zealand. There, populations have been on the brink of extinction for quite some time. They were the first birds in New Zealand to be fully protected in 1903, and have been the subject of extensive study and captive-breeding programs in hopes of reestablishing them as a flourishing fowl in New Zealand’s fast-flowing mountain streams.

Rather than telling a broader conservation story, or explaining where these birds were from to begin with, media outlets opted to sensationalize the story of two birds in a non-heterosexual relationship as the cause of a species’ extinction without mentioning these birds were never from the UK to begin with, nor their century long plight in their native country.

Another convenient detail left out of initial reporting was that Jerry had actually bonded with Cherry in 2008 before Ben came into the picture. Cherry, it turns out, was also quite old and beyond breeding age. She died in 2009, shortly after Ben and Jerry began their relationship.

In 2011, Ben, sadly, passed away from old-age as well. Jerry was left alone. By account of the Arundel Wetland Centre, Jerry took that loss especially hard, “alternating between frantic pacing and noisy calls to periods of quiet moping”. That is, until the Centre managed to slowly introduce him to a female companion of an entirely different species. Of course, there were no hopes of the two breeding. Turns out, humans aren’t the only ones who thrive on companionship.

Surely, none of the others meant any harm, but I think it speaks to our cultures knee-jerk reaction to scapegoat non-heterosexuality at almost any given opportunity.

In a sense, this is a story of a story that never needed to be one.

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