Duck used to be Debra Lippman's favorite poultry dish to order when she ate out.
"But not anymore," said the West New York resident last week. "I can never eat it again."
That's because Lippman has become a caregiver for one of her feathered friends that she spotted near the pond inside North Hudson Braddock Park in North Bergen recently.
Ever since Lippman moved to Hudson County from her native Manhattan a year ago, she became very fond of visiting North Hudson Braddock Park.
"I found the park to be very beautiful," Lippman said. "One day, I walked by and I saw this duck sitting on the rocks. It was getting dark and I noticed that this duck was starving. He didn't look like the other ducks at the pond. His neck was hanging low and was having a tough time walking."
Lippman had already become somewhat of an expert on ducks, because a few months earlier, she had met someone who was sitting in a park along Boulevard East in West New York who had a baby duck.
"The man said that his daughter had purchased this duck for him and he wasn't ready for it," Lippman said. "And he just left the duck with me."
Lippman always had an affection for animals, owning a cat and taking care of stray dogs from time to time. But a duck?
"I love all animals and I always had cats and dogs, but I didn't know anything about ducks," Lippman said. "No one knows what ducks are like, but I found that ducks are incredibly loving and friendly. Ducks are nice pets if you have a backyard and want a pet, but I couldn't keep it."
Lippman nursed the baby duck in her home and gave it the name of "Emma," and when the duck reached three months old, had its flight wings and was old enough to be released, she brought it to West Long Branch and released it.
"It was very difficult for me to bring Emma there," Lippman said. "I didn't know if she would like it."
So Lippman figured she was out of the duck-nursing game until that fateful day three weeks ago when she spotted a yellow-billed domestic duck sticking out like a sore thumb near the pond in North Hudson Braddock Park.
"Most of the ducks already there are wild mallards," Lippman said. "This was a traditional silver apple yard duck, with the white feathers and yellow bill."
And definitely a dead-ringer for the quacker that has been made popular by the AFLAC insurance television commercials.
"I was definitely surprised to see this duck at the pond," Lippman said. "I was even more surprised when this duck followed me."
Lippman said that she decided to nurse the abandoned animal back to health.
Lippman did research for the care of ducks on the Internet to find out what they like to eat and how to care for them.
"There are some people who keep ducks as pets who buy duck diapers," said Lippman, who has a career in sales. "There is also duck clothing you can buy as well. It's really amazing. But I learned a lot about taking care of ducks from the Internet."
While caring for the duck, which she named "Ernie," Lippman would take the duck daily to visit the pond. At the pond in North Hudson Park, Ernie became quite a folk hero.
"People just loved him," Lippman said. "And Ernie loved the people. Children, elderly people, everyone would come up to him and pet him and play with him. They can't just sit there. They have to come up to him. I've met so many people because they've come up to pet Ernie."
One of the people who was fascinated by Ernie the Duck was David Kronick, the former state assemblyman who is an avid user of the park and a conservation advocate.
"I was jogging with a friend one day in the park and I saw a crowd near the pond," Kronick said. "There were a few dozen people, children and older people, there. When I got closer, I saw the duck. I saw the children stroking the duck's tail feathers. The duck was so docile and tame."
Kronick introduced himself to Lippman, who told him the story about saving her feathered friend.
"I was overly impressed by this woman's care," Kronick said. "Not only did she care about the duck, but she was willing to go the extra nine yards and take the duck home with her. That's a major responsibility. It proved to me that there are people out there who truly care. I realized that there have been a lot of people who have been caring and feeding the ducks and geese in the park for many years."
Added Kronick, "But Debra is a special person. Thank God we have people like that who will go the extra mile."
Lippman said that Ernie is still a few weeks away from being released into captivity.
"In another two weeks or so, he'll be full grown," Lippman said. "I've been calling people to see if I can find him a permanent home. I might take him to West Long Branch, because Emma did well there. But I may see if he can take to the pond in the park. Hopefully, he'll be able to stay there."
Although she loves animals, Lippman hopes she's not earning a reputation as being a "duck lady."
"It's just one of those things that happened," Lippman said. "I've been able to meet some interesting people through this. I guess it's been sort of fate that I happened to be there that day."
Lippman is sad about letting Ernie go.
"I cried when I left the other one, so it will be difficult to lose this one," Lippman said. "Ernie's made a lot of friends."<