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Iconic Big Duck in Flanders turns 90

The Big Duck’s 90th birthday was celebrated Saturday, complete with a song about the roadside attraction from singer Caroline Doctorow, a poem about it written by Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and the revelation that the large avian is a male, not a female.

The key to that determination is that male ducks have a curly tail, according to Neil Young, president of Friends of the Big Duck. 

“Are you sure the Big Duck is a he?” Mr. Schneiderman asked. He said he would have to modify his poem slightly. 

The duck puns were everywhere Saturday. 

“That’s quite a poem for writing it on the fly,” Mr. Young said. 

“I winged it,” Mr. Schneiderman said. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Saturday also marked the reopening of the store inside the Big Duck, a gift shop that sells Big Duck memorabilia, which had been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

The Big Duck was built in 1931 by duck farmer Martin Maurer, who used it as a poultry shop. It was originally located on West Main Street in Riverhead and remained there until 1936, when it was moved to its current location on Flanders Road in Flanders. 

But in between, in 1988, it was moved to a spot farther east on Flanders Road, in front of the Sears-Bellows horse riding stables, on the border with Hampton Bays. 

Local officials pose in front of the Big Duck at Saturday’s celebration. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

This was done because the Flanders Road site was being sold for development and the property owners gave the Duck to Suffolk County. 

Robert Ross, who was Southampton Town deputy supervisor for six years under then-supervisor Skip Heaney, recalled that Flanders residents frequently asked the Town Board to bring the Big Duck back to Flanders. 

Then one day, Mr. Heaney told Mr. Ross he was putting him in charge of moving the Duck back to its Flanders location. 

The development proposed for that site never materialized and Southampton Town had acquired the land surrounding the Big Duck, while the county retained ownership of the Duck itself, in accordance with the agreement turning the land over to the county, and the sliver of land it sits on. 

Unlike the 1988 transfer of the Duck to the Sears-Bellows site, which was done in daylight, the return trip was made at night. 

Mr. Ross said he walked behind the Duck from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Oct. 5, 2007, as it was moved by Davis Brothers “Duck Moving,” as the modified sign said, , and as electric utility trucks lifted wires so the Duck could fit under them. 

“Of my six years as deputy supervisor, that was one of the most memorable things I’d ever done,” Mr. Ross recalled. 

Ms. Doctorow said she wrote her song “Big Duck Ramble” about 10 years ago. 

“Everybody loves the Big Duck,” she said before performing it Saturday. “That’s something we all have in common.”