‘Duck Man’ keeps the fowl fed
By Brent Johnson
Piles of French loaves, sourdough bread, buns and bagels quickly disappear as John Barber reaches into a bag to feed his hungry followers.
Some try to slip away from the crowd and eat in peace, only to be chased by other hungry ducks. Barber tries to ensure his feathered friends that he has plenty to go around.
“I don’t like to give them too much,” he says, tossing a roll. “They still need to fly.”
Barber, 43, has a fascination for ducks ó and they for him. His house on High Rock Lake provides the perfect setting for tending to the local wildlife.
One of his neighbors counted up to 106 ducks surrounding him at one time. It isn’t unusual for people to refer to Barber as “The Duck Man.”
“Don’t go thinking I’m some kind of nut,” he says, laughing.
A maintenance technician for Time Warner Cable, Barber works mostly in Salisbury, but sometimes travels to Kannapolis and Concord on his job. He and his wife, Pam, have two children, Corey and Chase, a dog named Cocoa and two cats, Patches and Stripes.
And of course, there are the ducks.
Though he’s lived on High Rock for about 20 years now, Barber says he didn’t begin feeding the ducks regularly until about three years ago.
“My wife tells me every morning, ‘Your ducks are out there,’ ” he says, chuckling.
They’re waiting on him every morning when he goes out to leave for work.
Barber picks up about $7 worth of bread at a time, and when he returns, it doesn’t take long until the ducks have him surrounded.
Though he’s never been bitten by a duck, he says they sometimes form a feathery barrier to try to prevent him from going anywhere. A lot of times, when he sits in his truck to finish paperwork in the evenings, they waddle over and block him from entering his house.
Because he has spent many mornings and nights feeding the same ducks, they’ve learned his schedule. Sometimes when he leaves earlier than usual for work, they aren’t around.
He calls to them two or three times. They respond with seven quacks every time.
All was quiet one morning when he returned home at 3 a.m. from a late work call. But the sound of the Time Warner truck backing in echoed over the lake, like a mother calling her children for breakfast. Barber says the ducks went crazy.
“Be quiet!” he remembers saying. “Everybody is trying to sleep!”
They began flying in, flocking with rambunctious quacks in the early morning. Barber could think of only one solution.
“I had to feed ’em to shut them up,” he says, laughing.
The ducks have become accustomed to Barber’s generosity and are comfortable eating right out of his hand. Some even hop in his lap.
Seeing the same ducks every day, Barber began putting names to beaks. Some of the most familiar include Bob, a white duck with a blue band around his foot; Peanut Butter, a duck with swirls of brown and white; One-Eyed Willie; Cow; and Big Gray.
Barber has noticed social patterns among the ducks. He refers to the white ones, who tend to swim together, as the “yuppies.” Bob, once a yuppie, was kicked out of the group for reasons unknown.
The High Rock Duck Man has become somewhat of an on-the-spot veterinarian for his feathered friends. A couple of weeks ago, Barber was doing some yard work when he noticed a lone duck on the bank and walked over to take a closer look.
“If one lets you get close to it without food, something’s wrong,” he says.
Barber edged closer to the lame duck to discover that his beak had been broken in half. He glued the duck’s bill back together.
The backyard operation was a success, and once the glue had dried, the duck was able to nibble on dry cat food. Barber hasn’t seen the duck since, but eagerly awaits its return.
Other ducks with such injuries as hooks through their beaks, fishing line in their throats or tied around their webbed feet have all been helped by Barber’s magical touch.
His wife likes to refer to him as “Dr. Dolittle,” a movie with a veterinarian who can speak to his animal patients.
The similarities are uncanny.
One of the only chores he hesitates to take on is the aftermath debris. “Every Saturday, he has to blow feathers,” says wife Pam.
Even then, using the leaf blower to rid his lawn of duck poo and feathers is somewhat of a meditation.
“If I have a bad day at work, the ducks are my therapy,” Barber says. “They make you forget about all the little things.”
Even when Barber’s away, he makes sure that someone is around to shower the ducks with breaded gifts.
“We all feed the ducks when John’s not around,” says Pam. “He’ll fuss if we don’t.”