By LINDA MOSS
Walnut Street residents are mourning the hit-and-run death of a perennial visitor to the township, a female mallard duck named Florence who was struck and killed by a vehicle last week.
The bird and her mate Chauncey have been annually returning to the Walnut Street area for about a dozen years, according to Lisamarie Suriano, co-owner of the Corso 98 restaurant, where the birds hung out, sometimes ate and often slept. Their visits and presence delighted many residents, with the feathery fowl usually arriving in Montclair in April and leaving in July, Suriano said.
“This is the 13th year they’ve been coming,” she said. “They just showed up one spring.”
But the ducks’ tale came to a sad end last week, on Wednesday shortly after 4 p.m., when the female was hit on the road on Walnut Street in front of the Red Eye Café. Suriano said that she heard the news when her daughter, who was waitressing at Corso 98, called to tell her “and she was uncontrollably sobbing.”
The Montclair Township Animal Shelter responded to the accident scene.
“We were called immediately … We knew who they were talking about, right around the corner,” said Liz Morgan, the shelter’s acting director. “We looked for any signs of life. She was DOA. Just really sad.”
The crowd of about 10 people that had gathered was visibly upset by the female duck’s demise, according to Morgan.
“Everyone was either crying or holding back tears,” she said.
One of those concerned and upset about the Florence’s death was Gwenn Abbott.
“As a resident of Montclair that lives on Walnut Street, I would see the ducks at this time of year, nearly every day on my walk home from the train station,” she said in an email. “They were absolutely adorable.”
Another Walnut Street resident, Linda Ippolito said, “It was such a delight in the spring to see them walk along …They’re really precious. They were just such a wonderful addition to the town.”
Suriano, who owns Corso 98 with her husband Elio, said that the two birds would frequent the street by day and sleep near the eatery at night. Florence had no qualms about actually going inside and stopping by the restaurant’s kitchen, according to Suriano, whose children gave the avian mates their names.
“We hand-fed them for years,” Suriano said. “I feel lucky that the ducks kind of adopted us. … People commuting would pop in and comment. It sparked up a lot of conversations and we met some wonderful people.”
Professional photographer Angie McCaffrey, who lives on Walnut Street, happened to shoot photos of the two ducks just a few hours before Florence was killed.
“They both came close to me, it almost felt like they were posing for me,” McCaffrey said. “And then the owner of Corso 98 came out with bread and I realized they had been waiting for him at the door! Florence ate right from Elio’s hand, it was so sweet. You could tell there was a real shared affection there. I’m glad I was there that day to get a photo of the three friends, but it was a punch in the gut when I heard later that Florence had died.”
Elio Suriano, co-owner of Corso 98 on Walnut Street, feeds Florence, left, and her mate Chauncey outside the eatery last Wednesday. Just a few hours later, Florence was struck and killed by a vehicle on Wednesday. COURTESY ANGIE MCCAFFREY/ENTWINED STUDIO
Suriano said when she arrived at Corso 98 the day Florence was killed, “a gust of wind came in the front door and a little pile of her (Florence’s) feathers flew in … and I lost it.” Suriano kept the feathers and said she left the restaurant and went home.
Morgan said she had just videotaped the fowl couple a few days ago, and recently ordered special food, mealworms and cracked corn, for them.
The shelter director said she had also planned “to set up a feeding station away from the street (in an alleyway) in hopes of keeping them comfortable.” It is illegal to contain wildlife, Morgan said.
“I was concerned about them getting hit,” she said.
Ippolito suspects that the incident is an example of what she perceives as drivers increasingly speeding around the township. Suriano agreed, saying that “people drive crazy” on Walnut Street.
The nutritious mealworms and cracked corn are available for Chauncey, who has returned to Walnut Street without his mate, Morgan said.
Suriano said people often ask her how she could be certain that it was the same two ducks who returned to Walnut Street each year.
“I don’t know for sure,” she said. “One can only assume.”
Several residents made donations to the animal shelter in honor of Florence, Morgan said.
Suriano purchased a stone statue of a duck and has put it in front of her restaurant in memory of Florence.
“People have noticed the statue and stopped by to comment,” she said. “It’s all great love.”