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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bali Ducks - Spiritual Leaders & Environmentalists

As I stroll back from my early morning surf sessions, there's traffic. I stop and wait at the intersection of the small dirt roads carving the rice paddies. I smile and wave as Wayan finally passes and I can carry on my way. Wayan (duck dude) is bringing up the rear of his couple-hundred-strong flock of ducks as they waddle off to work.

The Bali duck (also known as the Balinese Crested Duck) is one of the oldest domesticated duck species on the planet. Their most defining features are their upright stature and little tufts of feather atop their head (known as the crest, a trait which is becoming increasingly less prominent).

It's rare to find Bali ducks outside of Bali and the neighboring islands in Indonesia. This may be due to their lower egg production (they only lay 120-250 eggs per year), but maybe due to their special place in society here on the Island of the Gods. They are held as a religious symbol and ever present in Hindu ceremonies here (Bebek Betutu is a very famous dish). But their spiritual (and culinary) standing aside, Bali ducks have an important job.
Wayan turns the flock loose on their first rice paddy, and they quickly make their way into the shallow waters and set to work (the fledglings above love it!). For centuries, they have held a symbiotic relationship with the island's sweeping rice paddies. They leave the rice stems alone, but feed instead on weeds (particularly duckweed) and insects. As they make their way through the paddy, their waddling and digging up of weeds stirs up the water and provides much needed oxygenation for root growth. After harvest, Bali ducks feed on gabah (rice grain husks), cleaning the paddies as they leave behind fertilizer in the form of droppings.

Bali ducks have helped keep rice paddies on this beautiful island (mostly) free from pesticides. As pesticides become increasingly used worldwide and their negative effects on health and the environment continue to be uncovered, the traditional use of Bali ducks is a shining example of how humans can mitigate pest issues without chemical intervention.

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