Boat owner won't duck law while birds nest on board Sailing vessel is for sale, and it comes with a crew of five

April 26, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

For sale: 22-foot sailboat. Sleeps four. Stove, radio, lights, ducks.

David Schott is offering a boating accessory that may or may not lure prospective buyers.

Tucked in the folds of the mainsail of his boat is a mallard duck and her nest of four large eggs.

And that presents a dilemma.

Because the duck, a migratory waterfowl, is protected by federal law, Mr. Schott can't set sail from his Annapolis slip without permission, which could keep him tied to the dock for a month.

His choices?

Apply and wait for a federal exemption or let nature take its course.

Call him Mr. Natural.

"I may be in for a big family, but that's OK," said Mr. Schott, a missions coordinator for Sister Parish, a church-related, Baltimore-based international youth exchange program, who pegged his age at "about 50."

With tufts of brown and gray feathers all over the deck, Mr. Schott's boat at Gunthers Boat Yard on Martins Cove is hard to miss.

Get closer and you'll see the mother duck guarding her four freckled eggs.

She rarely leaves the nest, and Mr. Schott wonders how she eats.

"I was working on a bagel inside the car," he said. "Maybe I'll leave some for her."

Mr. Schott learned about his boarding party from a potential buyer.

"I thought he may be joking or that it was just a cracked egg that wound up in there," Mr. Schott said.

"I sort of thought that Mother Nature would take care of it," he added. "And sure enough, the mother of nature was sitting on the eggs."

A biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources filled him in on the restrictions in the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.

"This is pretty unusual," said Kathy Bangert, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "But mallards tend to be a lot less wary than other waterfowl, and they'll nest anywhere."

They seem quite fond of Gunthers, near the Chesapeake Bay.

Ed Darwin, who has run the boatyard since 1960, said ducks have nested on at least one boat every year since he can remember.

Two years ago, it was his turn when a mallard built her nest on the captain's chair.

"I was surprised, to say the least," said Mr. Darwin, who watched six of the eight eggs hatch. "We just worked around her. It didn't inconvenience us at all."

The absence of people during early spring months and the number of boats have helped the ducks make themselves at home, he said.

It will be almost a month before the eggs hatch and a few more days until the ducklings are ready to swim away.

And the mallard could return to the same spot to nest next year, Ms. Bangert said.

"I guess I'll have to start praying for rapid progress and a speedy departure and that all four [ducklings] will be good swimmers and get athletic scholarships to Duck University," Mr. Schott said.

The Baltimore resident, who was an economist for the federal government for seven years, said he understands the red tape wrapped around his boat.

"With the plight of endangered species and the decimation of wildlife around the world, we need more wildlife," he said.

"It's my small contribution to biodiversity," he added.

Still, this is the second time something has prevented him from selling his boat.

After he bought an ad two years ago, his answering machine brokeand he could not return phone calls.

Mr. Schott said he is considering a new ad that uses the ducks as a selling point.

"I could say that the boat comes with extra quackers," he joked. "No cheese provided. Unusual propulsion forms available."

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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