A white duck and two brown ducks stading at the door of Anna's Restaurant.

Louie’s unique color and affectionate demeanor led the staff at Anna’s House to suspect that he was a Pekin duck, a flightless farm bird. How he might have ended up in the pond outside the restaurant was a mystery. | Photo by Sarah Stein

In early May of 2023, Sarah Stein, general manager of the restaurant Anna’s House, was prepping for the 6 a.m. rush. Her gaze lighted on the pond just beyond the patio. A mother duck glided serenely across its surface, followed by eleven adorable ducklings. One of them immediately stood out: unlike his brown or yellow siblings, his feathers were white.

The differences didn’t stop there. As he grew older and bolder, the white duckling would waddle up from the pond onto the lawn, and eventually the patio. He’d stand at the door, cocking his head or poking at the glass, entreating staff and customers for tasty morsels of food.

He “had a lot of personality from birth,” recalls Stein. “I wanted to find a name that matched his personality, and Louie came to mind.”

Louie’s unique color and affectionate demeanor led Stein and her staff to suspect that he was a Pekin duck, a flightless farm bird. How he might have ended up in the pond outside Anna’s House was a mystery, but they were too excited about their new adopted duck to worry about that. They’d offer him oats, blueberries, and strawberries, and he’d eat them right out of their hands. He learned his name and would come when called.

“[I]f we did not have a visual of him, he would come by whistle,” Stein emails. “He would run or waddle fast, or swim his little heart out across the pond and to the door of the patio, where staff were standing.”

Customers loved him too, cooing or taking videos when he’d play with the geese or shake his tail with excitement when offered a tasty treat. The staff created a group chat, Stein writes, “to share cute and funny ‘Oh Lou Lou Bird’ moments, as we do not all work on the same days and did not want to miss any of his adorable moments.”

But as the weeks passed, Louie’s siblings dwindled in number. Ducklings are a popular meal for hawks, raccoons, owls, and other predators, and Stein worried that if Louie couldn’t fly, he might be next. The Humane Society of Huron Valley offered to capture and relocate him, but Stein decided to take matters into her own hands. In early June, she gently placed Louie in a cardboard box with air holes, slid the box into the trunk of her car, and drove him the three miles to her home near Stadium Blvd. and S. Main St.

When Louie emerged, it was in a palatial estate, by duck standards. Stein and her husband had fenced off a third of their yard to give him plenty of space to roam. They bought a wading pool and changed the water every day. Finally, they adopted another white Pekin duck, Gus, who became Louie’s devoted companion.

Louie and Gus spent their days roaming the backyard, splashing in the wading pool, and feasting on watermelon, blueberries, oats, strawberries, and fresh lettuce. At night, they curled up safe and sound in their two-level nesting house. Everyone was happy with this tranquil suburban arrangement—or so it seemed.

One warm July afternoon, Stein’s husband went outside to feed the ducks their lunch. He saw Gus, but Louie was nowhere to be found.

“I got a frantic call from my husband,” Stein recalls. She dropped everything and drove home to search the neighborhood. “I was beyond panic.”

Neighbors heard about Louie’s sudden disappearance and helped with a yard-to-yard search. The Louie group chat was blowing up with messages of concern. One staffer even volunteered to stop by and whistle.

By sunset, Louie was still MIA. As everyone reluctantly returned home, gloom descended over the neighborhood with the nighttime darkness.

“I went inside,” says Stein, “sat in a chair, and cried.”

As soon as they woke up the next morning, she and her husband rushed out to their backyard, hoping Louie had returned. No such luck. The next day, Stein combed the neighborhood streets on her drive home, “looking and hoping.”

Three days later, Stein was back at Anna’s House preparing for the 6 a.m. rush. Louie weighed heavy on her mind. She glanced over at the pond—and couldn’t believe her eyes. There, standing expectantly at the patio door, was Louie.

“I was overcome with disbelief and excitement,” she says, beaming. She snapped a picture and shared it on the Louie group chat. The rest of the day was one of rejoicing for the staff at Anna’s House. Louie ate like a king.

Even though he was living the good life at Stein’s house with his pal Gus, Louie must have felt there was no place like home—in his case, the pond at Anna’s House. But how exactly did a flightless duck manage a three-mile journey, especially since he’d been taken to Stein’s house in a box? It seemed he must have walked down South Seventh St., crossed Main near Pioneer High, traversed the U-M golf course, and finally made his way through the neighborhoods just north of Anna’s House.

And then one day Louie flapped his wings and took flight. Turns out he isn’t a Pekin duck after all; he’s a white male mallard. Which means he flies—and migrates.

In November, Louie and his siblings Action and Bronson, along with a few other ducks from the pond, departed for a warmer winter home. Even though Stein and her staff knew Louie was a capable traveler and would have friends during the journey, they were still sad to see him go.

For mallards, the average fall migration covers 875 miles. Along the way, they may face inadequate food, bad weather, and the ever-present threat of predators. Come spring, the average migration is a bit shorter, 730 miles, leading to the dreadful possibility that Louie might find a new home 150 miles south in, perish the thought, Ohio.

But at the end of February, Louie came back to his pond—and so did Action and Bronson. Stein spotted them patiently waiting at the patio door for breakfast.

“In that moment, we at Anna’s House were deeply touched by the power of Mother Nature,” she recalls. “Our hearts were complete, having Louie and crew back at the pond.”

And soon, their hearts were even fuller. Louie found love: a brown mallard that the restaurant’s crew dubbed Momma Dux. By April, twelve ducklings were spotted gliding along behind her in the pond. Nine of them were brown, and three were yellow.