Botany Pond is a picturesque spot near the heart of the campus, beloved by the University of Chicago community. Each spring it reawakens with new life, including turtles, birds and fish—and a certain group of visitors that has been flocking back for decades.
“The ducks, they’ve probably been here for over 100 years,” said Prof. Emeritus Jerry Coyne, who kept an office overlooking the pond for more than 30 years. “They’re part of the University community.”
Since at least 2017, a mallard named Honey has raised broods of ducklings at Botany Pond. This spring, she and another female named Dorothy are burrowed in their nests atop window ledges at Erman Hall near the pond, where they’ll stay until their eggs hatch in the next week. (The University has set up a camera at Botany Pond to allow visitors to check in on their progress.)
When the University began shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coyne was granted special access to visit campus to feed and check on the ducks—something he’s been doing since retiring in 2015. It’s a fitting scene to be happening at the pond, first envisioned near the turn of the 20th century as an outdoor research laboratory for scientists.
“It’s hard to be a biologist and be indifferent to any organism,” said Coyne, a renowned evolutionary biologist who spent much of his career researching the common fruit fly. “I study flies, and they’re cool in their own way, but the behaviors of ducks are far more absorbing.”