In 2019, Derek Johnson had no idea he was about to make a new best friend when he wandered into a farm supply store in Minnesota and discovered a box of day-old pekin ducklings for sale.
“The day that we got him there was just a crate full of baby ducks and none of them seemed to want to be held,” Derek said in a Facebook video from 2021. “When I reached in, he was the only little duck that didn’t run away.”
Derek picked up the duckling and fate took over. “I just kinda knew he was the one I wanted to bring home with me.”
Thus began a friendship Derek had always hoped for.
“I had a duck when I was younger, but I was in a much different place in my life [then]. Not a very good place in life. And after having that duck for a couple of years, I had to find a new home for him.”
Derek said he was “heartbroken” when he had to re-home his duck. “I decided one day when I got my life together, I really wanted to get another duck. I decided I wanted to give him a really fun and cool life.”
So, Derek and his family began taking Ben Afquack – perhaps one of the greatest duck names of all time – on local outings. “Basically, anywhere that we took the dogs.”
Videos show Ben hiking by a lake, riding in a baby stroller on long walks through town, and playing in a city fountain. The family then bought a duck-safe carrier to take him on their mopeds. “That’s when the adventures really started,” says Derek. They’ve taken Ben paddleboarding, kayaking, swimming, tubing and even sledding – this duck digs the snow!
Ben may be living in the fast lane, but it’s his musical ability that captured global attention – a talent discovered by accident. Derek, who is a drummer, discovered that Ben would kick his feet when held. One day his wife Stephanie slipped one of Derek’s snare drums under those tapping toes and an internet superstar was born: When Ben’s travels and talents found their way to his own Instagram account they set a 2021 Guinness World Record for the most followers – for a duck.
Derek says they were really just “poking fun at the whole Instagram thing and then it kind of just accidentally blew up. It was hilarious but it also allowed us more opportunities to bring him new places.”
Who doesn’t want an Insta-famous duck in their establishment?
There are videos of Ben doing just about everything, from ridding a Roomba to enjoying some Starbucks “coffee.” The family sometimes outfit him in a sequined diaper cover – like a true celebrity.
But Ben hasn’t let fame got to his head. He’s still just a family duck at heart.
“He’s super attached to all of us now,” Derek said. “And he loves the dogs even more than he loves us.”
According to the Ducks Wiki, there has been some confusion around Ben’s gender, which his humans describe as “fluid.” When Derek adopted a duck, he just thought “Ben Afquack” was a great name. But, as readers of this blog will know, it’s next to impossible to tell the gender of a baby duck. Derek and Stephanie learned that lesson when Ben started laying eggs.
Ben remains Ben, however, with Derek and Stephanie sometimes switching up pronouns. “Ben’s a he or a she, depending on what the moment requires,” Derek joked.
Internet fame aside, Derek and his family’s priority for Ben is that he feels happy and safe. “Ducks are very social animals,” said Derek, “so it’s very important we spend a lot of time with him since we just have the one. Basically, we’re his ducks; the dogs are his ducks. It’s only fair to him that he get to spend as much time as possible with his flock.”