When one of the ducks living in the Lake at Constitution Gardens needs help, Ted Woynicz is the man to call.
long a busy stretch of Constitution Avenue, across from the Federal Reserve building, Ted Woynicz leads a visitor to his special place.
It's informally dubbed "The Lake at Constitution Gardens," a 7.5-acre, island-dotted jewel flanked by the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool.
But Ted has another, even more casual, moniker for the lake. "Welcome to the land of the ducks," he says.
Known to his cohorts as "Ted the Duckman," the Florida native is one of more than 200 greater Washingtonians who serve as National Park Service VIPs - Volunteers in the Park. They are typically volunteers who lend a particular professional or personal expertise or skills to their duties.
And for most of his life, Ted has been interested in ducks. Raised on a 1,000-acre farm at the edge of the Florida Everglades, Ted grew up around 3,000 head of cattle, 200 horses, dozens of dogs and cats-and hundreds of ducks. He started as a zoology major at the University of Florida in the late 1970s, before graduating with a degree in visual design. He later earned a professional certificate in neurolinguistic programming from the society of NLP while attending George Washington University.
Ted has served as VIP at the lake for nearly six years. And although he's officially a volunteer, he comes to the park most every day. In a year, he'll log 700 hours at the lake, or nearly five times beyond volunteer minimum.
So park officials consider Ted the steward of the lake. He's the one to alert them when ducks lay eggs, and when they hatch. He gives the heads-up when the algae is getting bad.
"He's our eyes and ears out there for so many things," says Gregg Kneipp, a natural resource management specialist at Parks Central. "So he lets us know when he sees something that needs attention, and he often sees it well ahead of us."
Today, wearing his park uniform, Ted slowly circles the edge of the lake. Walking along the 4,200 feet of shoreline, he finds bits of discarded Americana - potato chip bags, soda cans, hundreds of feet of fishing line, house keys, watches, cameras, running shoes, even a rusted tricycle.
He picks up every piece and disposes of it properly.
These items have no place in their home, he says ("them" being the ducks, of course). Hundreds of human visitors come uninvited and leave such trash, but Ted is too civil to be impolite.
A few minutes later, Ted spots a pair of men whose border collies are running without leashes. Not that he has anything against dogs either, but they have their place, and a park filled with ducks isn't the place for unrestrained dogs.
"Gentlemen," Ted says, pointing out his park name tag. "You'll have to put those dogs on a leash. It's the law. Thank you kindly."
In addition to knowing the law, Ted also calls most of the ducks by name, and there have been more than 50 named during his years of volunteering.
When I bring my friends here at night, I can tell from the sound of the quack who the duck is. It's like when you spot your wife coming out of a crowd at RFK Stadium. It's instant recognition.
"There's Dover, his feathers look like the white cliffs of Dover," he says. A duck named Mousse has a cappuccino-chocolate look. "There's Wrinklebeak, a unique snowy mallard, who has a wrinkled beak, and Sabrina, a mallard hen, who has a smoky gypsy look."
Another lake visitor watches Ted interact with his flock. "You have names for all the ducks?" He asks.
Yes, of course, Ted tells the visitor.
"That's alllll-right!" the visitor replies, smiling.
He's our eyes and ears out there for so many things. So he lets us know when he sees something that needs attention, and he often sees it well ahead of us.
Gregg Kneipp, Natural Resource Management Specialist, Washington D.C. Parks - Central
n executive support consultant in his other life, Ted had just finished a meeting with a client one day before heading out to the lake. Still wearing his suit and tie, he was walking along the water's edge when he discovered the egg with a little beak sticking out of a small hole and heard two weak cheeping sounds.
The egg was very cold, so Ted did the only thing the Duckman could do. He took the egg home, wrapped it up with towels, lay it on his chest, put a heatlamp overhead, and hatched it himself. It took 16 hours.
"When she hatched, I was so glad to see that her breathing normalized that I named her O," Ted explains, "Like oxygen."
Lucky O is now 4 years old. She has hatched 63 ducklings of her own. But she and her brood still endure the occasional thoughtlessness of visitors. Once Ted had to rush her brother, Dolphin to a wildlife rehab center because he had swallowed two fish hooks and had another stuck through his ankle. It took a month for him to heal enough to return to the lake.
Getting Dolphin back to the lake was important. Ted never separates a family. And they are families, he stresses.
"Most people think animals don't remember. But in reality they don't forget their bonds," he says. "I brought Dolphin back after a month. When I took him out of the carrier and put him in the water, you should have seen his brothers and sisters flapping around in the water. They were so happy to see each other again, to be together again as a family.
Ted points to two ducks quacking in the distance. "There's Toby Duck and Amadeus," he says. "Come here, guys. Come here."
And they do, flocking to Ted like children rushing to greet their father.
Article: Dennis McCafferty
Photographs: Allen Rokach
Southern Living Magazine, March 2000