Skip to main content

It began with a canal.

Susie Wilkinson – a nomadic, former Air Force kid who grew up mostly in Germany – never meant to be a “crazy duck lady.” But eight years ago, when she and her boyfriend settled in Wahiawa in O’ahu, they found a rental house with a water feature.

“We just we got really lucky,” she says of the house. It wasn’t long before the birds came, and Susie learned that their “nice little rental” had a “pretty gnarly canal.”

At first Susie – a lifelong animal lover – was excited with the steady stream of wildlife in her back yard. There were myriad ducks, from mallards to Muscovies, and Susie started doing her homework.

Courtesy of Susie’s Duck Sanctuary

“They hung out and we fed them a little bit here and there to keep them safe,” she says. “But Mom would come up with a brood and a week later there would be no more. After the third brood disappeared, I thought, ‘If she brings any more up here, I want to protect them and help them.’”

The canal that delighted the renters turned out to be a savage nursery. Susie explains that just about every animal around them was a danger to the babies, from herons and mongoose to male ducks and turtles – even chickens and fish. When their resident momma Muscovy came back, she had just one duckling left.

“I was like, ‘You won’t make it the night.’ And that’s when I stole the baby.” Susie chuckles at the word. “Kidnapped, rescued – whatever you want to call it. But that’s honestly how I ended up with a duck.”

Susie and duckling passenger. Courtesy of Susie’s Duck Sanctuary.

What the Flock?

“I had no idea what I was doing, and nobody on the islands could help because nobody knew either!” Susie recalls. But she was determined to give the little yellow duckling, which she named Daffy, the best shot at life.

“I found a rescue, a sanctuary in Connecticut, and I harassed that poor woman day and night,” she laughs. “I was all over her website, and I just studied and learned. It was Kim Link’s Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary. She’s been my mentor. She has a book called The Ultimate Pet Duck Guidebook. It’s so good. It’s like 500 pages of everything she’s been through, and I would just lay in bed and just study it.”

Daffy on a walk. Courtesy of Susie’s Duck Sanctuary.

Despite the learning curve, Susie says Daffy couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It was a really intense part of my life. I was having a really rough go of things and basically, she saved my life as much as I saved hers. I finally had something to focus on that gave me purpose again, and it was this little duckling.”

And then, that duckling learned to surf.

The Magic of AccessSurf

When Susie was a kid, her mother was in an accident that left her a quadriplegic. “I was six when she got injured,” she says, “so I grew up as a caregiver.” Her partner, a Marine Corps veteran, is also disabled, and those life experiences lead her to volunteer with AccessSurf, a nonprofit that helps empower people with physical and cognitive disabilities by getting them in the water – specifically the salt water.

“Daffy would just come with me everywhere, and I’m on the leadership committee [for AccessSurf] so we went to the beach all the time,” Susie explains. It wasn’t long before Daffy was a main attraction.

Therapy duck Daffy in action with AccessSurf. Courtesy of Susie’s Duck Sanctuary.

“She became a therapy duck – for veterans, adults, kids on the spectrum. She just could do crazy things, just to begin conversations, to lighten the mood, to make people look at you and go, ‘There’s a duck. Why is there a duck at the beach?’”

Breaking the ice was just the beginning of Daffy’s people skills. She was especially popular with kids on the spectrum. “She could tell the difference between a kid who was excitable because of their needs or just a kid who was being obnoxious and poking at her. And it was really cool to watch.”

At some point, Daffy took an interest in the adaptable surf and paddleboards.

Daffy checking out a board. Courtesy of Susie’s Duck Sanctuary.

“She walked on land, on surfboards all the time. She would just walk on them and stand on them, like, “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

The AccessSurf volunteers took the hint.

“One of the really good surfers, KK, took her out into the shallows and onto a board,” says Susie. “KK paddled with her on her chest and turned around and then she stood up on the nose of the board and sailed it in.”

Susie and Daffy catching a wave. Courtesy of Susie’s Duck Sanctuary.

Daffy turned out to be a natural. (“It’s crazy,” Susie says later. “I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of ducks now; there hasn’t been one with the same temperament yet that would even be able to get on a board.”) The pair were even invited to join a surfing dog competition, where they took fourth place. The surfing duck became a bit of a local celebrity.

And then came the pleas for help…


That’s just the start of the story! Read about how Susie’s surfing duck led to more adventures and the only waterfowl rescue in O’ahu…

Leave a Reply