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Fire Island duckling

It was Pepe who brought him to us. Pepe runs a miniature poultry farm on the island - presumably for the usual purpose of poultry farms.

This fine Long Island duckling had tangled with a dog, badly: tail feathers all gone, one wing damaged. Returning home to his classmates, he was met with further hostility. A pecking order was established, the order being to peck him.

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At this point Pepe thought of the Harrison boys. As he told it to us, handing over the disheveled bird, ''Something tells me you loves 'em.'' So our twelve-year-old, Matthew, took him on. Putting aside The Phantom Toll Booth which he was reading, he announced, ''His name is Milo'' (a character in that popular book).

Thus began a beautiful friendship. Young Matthew washed the wounds, rearranged the disordered plumage, and sought advice on feeding from the Audubon Society.

Milo waxed plump and prosperous and became Matthew's devoted follower. Loud were his lamentations when his efforts to board the school bus each morning with his pal were frustrated. He finally accepted this period of separation and set up a busy schedule for himself. Whoever entered the bay for a swim soon found himself escorted by Milo. He didn't exactly show off, but he made it plain that he had the superior technique. Grandma was accustomed to taking a dignified swim and welcomed Milo paddling alongside, watching her sideways with one-eyed vigilance. To liven things up, he took to diving under Grandma, not only from side to side but from end to end. What porpoises could do, Milo could do better!

Before long he was supervising all maritime activity in the bay, patrolling astonished clam diggers and trailing yachts at weekend races. As the summer went by, Milo, sitting comfortably on the seaweed with Olympia the cat beside him, became a local celebrity. Departing summer visitors, hastening to the ferry, would cry, ''Goodbye, Milo!'' and his answering quacks could be heard as far away as the Atlantic beach.

Shortening days reminded us that winter follows autumn, and that in winter the Great South Bay freezes. Milo's future became an urgent topic for discussion at the supper table. ''He can come inside and live with us,'' said the boys. ''Olympia will keep him warm at night.'' It was pointed out that the life style of ducks is not as adaptable to indoor living as that of cats.

''What happens to ducks in winter?'' asked Ben, the young one. Nobody felt like answering. The grown-ups began to talk about sending him back to Pepe. The boys worried. ''He'll miss us terribly.'' And then, the next morning, Milo was missing for two hours. A frantic search of the bay revealed him dating a lady duck on Pepe's beach.

Jubilantly the boys proclaimed, ''Now he can spend the winter at Pepe's with his girlfriend and come back to us next summer!''

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''Well,'' my husband, Pete, said slowly, ''let's face it - he is a Long Island duckling, and I daresay Pepe. . . .''

But before he could finish, Ben cried, ''He's not a Long Island duck - he's a Fire Island duck!''

And whoever saw a menu with Fire Island duckling on it? Milo remained with us afterall.

So Milo got settled down comfortably in the bushes - practically the only navigable object in the deserted Great South Bay. And since Peter had bought the adjacent beach, Milo held undisputed sway there too.

There came a day when Peter decided to ''beat the bounds'' of his newly acquired territory. He was enjoying his walk on the sand and seaweed, thinking of nothing in particular, when suddenly he realized he'd seen something unusual. Retracing his steps he came upon a large, solitary egg. He gathered up the egg, walked a little farther, and found himself confronting a nest with three eggs in it. A somewhat haphazard effort at homemaking, but a nest nevertheless.

If anything had been needed to establish Milo's permanent residency, this unexpected source of free food for the family did it. As a newly-discovered egg-layer, she became eligible for housing and nourishment. A duck hutch was constructed. Milo continued tocavort in the bay, to lay eggs, and when the weather turned cold, tohammer on the house door with her bill until let in

Christmas came and went, and it came time for the family to take a trip to Florida. Milo was boarded out at Pepe's farm for two weeks.

When the day of reunion arrived her quacks of joy resounded over the island - it seemed as if the whole of Suffolk County had to know.

However, it appeared that on this visit she had plighted her troth to a character known as Desoto the Duck. As we recognized it would be cruel and unusual punishment to separate the happy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Desoto returned home to Ocean Bay Park together.

Picture the dismay when, after two weeks of married bliss, the couple vanished. The neighborhood was searched, friends notified of the loss, notices posted - everything, in fact, short of the FBI was enlisted.

When hope had all but fled, friends telephoned from Ocean Beach. ''We think your ducks are here.'' Peter and Matthew hastened to Ocean Beach and there the Desotos were discovered swimming in the boat dock. Milo was obviously delighted to see them, but as soon as Matthew attempted to rescue her, Desoto intervened. Believe it or not, this male chauvinist duck successfully intercepted all of Milo's efforts to escape. In the end it was necessary to mount an amphibious operation with the boys' dinghy, transported by car from Ocean Bay Park, and launched in the boat dock. After an hour or two of Peter rowing and Matthew wielding a large net, both ducks were captured and brought home.

I hate to tell you what happened next, but you can probably guess. For several days Milo and Desoto disported themselves on the home beach and ate enormous meals which they'd obviously missed. Then they disappeared again.

This time nobody asked any questions. Pete and Matt set out with dinghy and net for Ocean Beach. Sure enough the couple was back in the dock. Scooping up Milo, they turned their backs on Desoto once and for all.

Several weeks passed. Mr. Milo, alias Miss Milo, alias Mrs. Milo, was now a liberated duck living in single bliss. The family began to enjoy a steady supply of new-laid eggs, and zero population growth was assured.

Pleased to meet you, Ms. Milo!

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