Ducks (Wįǧra)

by Richard L. Dieterle

The greatest of the Duck Spirits was Ocean Duck, the son of the eldest son of Great Black Hawk, Chief of the Thunders. When he came to earth and became a human child, the other children embarrassed him by making fun of his red anus. So his father declared that the village would move leaving behind all the children who were old enough to play. Ocean Duck led all the children along the shore of the ocean, but that night they stayed at the lodge of a giant old woman, who killed and ate all the children except Ocean Duck. Ocean Duck eventually found that these Giants, in order to be invulnerable, kept their hearts on a platform. He climbed the platform and destroyed them. However, his purpose in coming to earth was to stop the cannibalism of his own father's sister, who enticed humans into a crevasse where they fell to their deaths. He seized the crow's skin amulet she had around her neck, and once it was pulled from her, she lost all her power. He crossed the ocean on the back of a Waterspirit and was reunited with his village.1 The genealogy of Ocean Duck is given here —

Ducks have consented to be food for humans. Once a human abused his privilege to hunt ducks by bragging that he would kill so many that he would bathe in their fat. When they flew over in spring they sang,

It is I, it is I;
My body is the blue sky of heaven;
It is I.

When the hunter shot at them, his arrow passed through as though they did not exist. This hunter repented his arrogance when he was called to task in Spiritland during a dream.2

When Jobenągiwį́xka went out to "dream" and receive a blessing, ducks were among those birds who appeared impersonating Night Spirits. He became aware of their false blessings and was not fooled by them.3

Trickster found mundane ducks easy enough to trick. He once persuaded them to dance around in a circle with their eyes closed. While they sang, Trickster wrung their necks one by one until one duck opened his eyes and gave the alarm. This was Little Red Eyed Duck, who was ever after cursed to have red eyes.4 The Menominee say that this kind of bird is called a "hell diver."5

The following are personal names in the Bird Clans that make reference to ducks —

Wįǧanasega He who Pens up Ducks6
Wįxa Duck7

Winnebagoes Hunting Ducks, by George Catlin

Links: Bird Spirits, Great Black Hawk, Giants, Thunderbirds, Waterspirits, Kaǧi, Trickster.

Stories: featuring ducks as characters: Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Origin of the Name "Winnebago" (Menominee), Ocean Duck, The Foolish Hunter; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (blackbirds, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (turkey buzzard), The Shaggy Man (blackbirds), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (blackbirds), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įcorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited there.


1 Paul Radin, "Ocean Duck," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #13: 1-77.

2 Oliver LaMère and Harold B. Shinn, Winnebago Stories (New York, Chicago: Rand, McNally and Co., 1928) 38-45. Informant: Oliver LaMère (Bear Clan).

3 Sam Blowsnake, The Warbundle Feast of the Thunderbird Clan, in Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 399-481 [428-433].

4 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 14-18.

5 Walter James Hoffman, The Menominee Indians, in the Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1892-1893 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896) 14:203-205.

6 Rev. James Owen Dorsey, "Winnebago Gentes, including Personal Names Belonging to each Gens" (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution: T.D., 1878-79?), cat. #4800 DORSEY PAPERS, Winnebago (319).

7 Nancy Oestreich Lurie, "A Check List of Treaty Signers by Clan Affiliation," Journal of the Wisconsin Indians Research Institute, 2, #1 (June, 1966): 50-73.