The Curse of the Labrador Duck: My Obsessive Quest to the Edge of Extinction
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The Curse of the Labrador Duck follows bird biologist Glen Chilton in his obsessive attempt to uncover the mysteries of one of the world's most enigmatic birds. In an unexpectedly zany adventure that took the author the equivalent of 3.3 times around the world, the result is a tale of theft, wartime atrocities, insane millionaires, intrigue in the Middle East, and skinny dipping.
The Labrador Duck is often mentioned in the same breath as the Passenger Pigeon, the Dodo, and the Great Auk—great species that once roamed the planet. The Labrador Duck became extinct somewhere around 1875. It is the most enigmatic bird in North America, partially because it bred so far north that no record exists of its breeding, and partially because it became extinct almsot before we noted it was in decline. The Curse of the Labrador Duck chronicles Chilton's adventures while attempting to examine every stuffed specimen of the species, do genetic analysis of every Labrador Duck egg, and visit every North American site where the duck was shot.
When Chilton began his investigation, there were thought to be about fifty specimens scattered amongst the museums of Europe, North America, and the Middle East. However, as his study advanced, it was clear that some specimens had been lost to war and theft, and others were secreted away in far-flung collections overseen by miserly curators. After travelling the equivalent of more than three times around the world, Chilton was able to examine what amounted to fifty-five specimens in total, although one turned out to be a forgery and several others had been tampered with by unscrupulous taxidermists. Regrettably, genetic analysis showed that none of the eggs attributed to the Labrador Duck were genuine, even those that had escaped the bombing of Dresden. On the positive side, the author earned numerous hangovers, swam naked in a glacier-fed stream, dined with Russian gangsters, and was able to narrowly avoid arrest in New York City.
precious artifacts, bought the duck, and took it home. Errol kept it for two months before he found himself short of cash, at which point he put it up for sale with a London art dealer, who sold the duck to Sheikh Saud of Qatar, a man with a thirst for acquiring beautiful and rare objects, for whom money is not the greatest limitation in life. It seemed that there was no way for me to find out which country home in Kent had housed the duck when Ford found it. However, at this point I knew quite
Cave, an example of nominative determinism almost as good as a bat biologist friend of mine who married a woman named Robin. The museum was also sponsoring a children’s art competition on the topic of Ireland’s watery places. And that very evening, I was due to give a lecture on Labrador Ducks. I like an audience, and have no objection to helping with advertising. I once did a radio interview promoting a talk while suffering a blinding migraine, with a corn snake wrapped around my neck. I hadn’t
selling off her menagerie, she had set aside three intact duck eggs. They had been sitting in her kitchen beside the stove in a Tupperware container for two months since she collected them. As we spoke, Morris worked her way through a pack of Black Cat cigarettes, while the eggs stared at me from the container on the kitchen table. They bobbed slightly in half an inch of evil green ooze. Despite the best intentions of the engineers at Tupperware International to keep freshness locked in, the
Something told me that this wasn’t a typical Sunday-morning Mass. Perhaps it was the flock of police officers. Perhaps it was the television crew setting up on the sidewalk. The cheesy part of me hoped that I was going to see a celebrity wedding. At 9:47 the bells ceased and I turned away. The Lustgarten awaited me. The site had been used to grow vegetables and herbs until taken over in the seventeenth century by the Great Elector, who apparently favored pleasure over nutrition. I walked through
the restaurant. This evening I was the oldest person in the park, and the only person whose trousers were stained with tahini sauce. Could this be my enduring vision of Germany? A scene of young people enjoying their youth in a city park, as they did in so many urban centers? I could see nothing that made it an image of Berlin as opposed to an image of, for instance, Cincinnati. I WAS OFF for the zoology museum early the next morning. It was a Monday, and the museum was closed, as most