The Course of True Love

Cyrano de Bergerac would have understood Northern Shovelers. Cyrano, you may recall, was the swashbuckling hero of Edmond Rostand’s play about true love. He had courage, wit, bravery—and the world’s biggest nose. He also had unbounded love for his gorgeous cousin Roxanne, but he lacked the confidence to tell her so.

When his best friend urged him to tell her of his love, Cyrano answered, “My old friend, look at me, and tell me how much hope remains for me with this protuberance! Oh … now and then I may grow tender, walking alone in the blue cool of evening…. I follow with my eyes where some boy, with a girl upon his arm, passes a patch of silver…and I feel somehow, I wish I had a woman too, walking with little steps under the moon….And then I see the shadow of my profile on the wall!”

Like Cyrano, Northern Shovelers have schnozzolas so immense it’s a wonder they don’t tip right over, nose first, and face plant in the water. Unlike Cyrano, though, they have loads of self-confidence. At least, the male I saw in the Lagoon the other day did. I watched him set eyes on a likely looking damsel sunning herself on a mudbank. Swelling up his chest, he paddled over and began ratcheting his head up and down, swimming back and forth while she watched, mesmerized. He must have been irresistible because she started ratcheting too.

I could see that for her, he was the One. Love at first sight. When another female sidled too close and tried a few head-ratchets of her own, the first female waddled over and gave her rival a ferocious bite. This exhibit of jealousy caused the love-sick male to ratchet so furiously I thought his bill would fly right off.

It’s still early days though—February may be the month for lovers but it’s too cold to lay eggs. So I wasn’t surprised when the male eventually lost interest in Amour and, muttering the equivalent of “Where’s my sandwich?” paddled off to scarf some water plants. From the look in the female’s eye as she watched his rear end disappear in the distance, though, he’s a goner.