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Washington's newest tourist attraction quacks

WASHINGTON—Pennsylvania Avenue's newest resident, like others on her block, enjoys the attention of Secret Service agents, camera-happy tourists and, on Friday at least, clamorous protesters.

Unlike her neighbors, she has feathers, webbed feet and nine eggs.

The female mallard duck showed up at U.S. Treasury headquarters next door to the White House two weeks ago, built a nest in the mulch at the base of a sapling near the Treasury's front gate and laid her eggs.

Secret Service agents erected fencing around the nest to protect President Bush's new neighbor, whom Treasury employees named Quacks Reform. (Get it? Tax reform ... Quacks Reform?) Now National Zoo biologists are advising Treasury officials on how best to ensure the bird's well-being, and the National Park Service officers who oversee the White House grounds are keeping an eye on her, too.

Treasury spokesman W. Taylor Griffin, who was on hand Friday for duck-related inquiries, said the eggs most likely would hatch in the next two weeks. Treasury employees already have named two of the expected ducklings: Duck Cheney and T-Bill.

The duck's dedication to her eggs is unswerving; she leaves the nest for only 15 or 20 minutes a day, according to Griffin. But in a town where everyone seems to have an agenda, some observers wonder about hers.

"I think it's a political stunt," offered Mike Brown, a student at the Midwestern University's Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine who'd stopped by the duck's well-fortified nest. "I think she's calling attention to the need for wetlands preservation."

Others thought her site ill-chosen.

"I was thinking she'd be in a fountain or something," said Rick Doran of New Providence, N.J., who was visiting the capital with his family. "Not this pile of mulch."

Quacks Reform's front yard turned into a political battleground Friday when demonstrators protesting the Group of Seven finance ministers' meeting in Washington converged a few yards north of her nest to call for debt relief for developing nations. Alert Treasury officials had installed a second security fence around Quacks Reform's nest Thursday and posted signs asking visitors not to feed or disturb her.

The demonstrators stayed clear of Quacks Reform, but didn't hesitate to use her rhetorically.

"It's great that the Treasury Department is taking care of one duck," said protester Sam Husseini of College Park, Md. "But one wishes they would show similar interest in the children who are dying in developing countries."

He held aloft a sign reading "G7: A BUNCH OF QUACKS."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): DUCK

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