Long Boi - Britain's most famous duck

In memory of Long Boi – Britain’s most famous duck

Stop all the clocks – Long Boi, the unusually lanky duck who wandered the University of York campus for several years, has been pronounced dead by university officials. A former student recalls the legacy of Britain's most famous duck.


A lifetime ago, as a University of York student in 2019, I was chased into the library by a goose.

It was my own fault really. It was around Easter time, infamous on the York campus as the Canada Goose mating season, where the whole population gets even more violent and bad-tempered than usual. This particular goose had taken umbrage against something – maybe a student had foolishly approached it with something resembling a lunch, or maybe I was walking too fast. All that matters is, two minutes of aggressive waddling, wing-flapping and a lot of hissing later, I had sealed myself behind the large automatic doors where all geese inexplicably feared to tread.

It was fine. It was where I was going anyway.

Among the campus-dwelling population of the University of York, it’s difficult to find someone without a similar story. Ironically for a campus with the largest plastic-bottomed lake in Europe, Hes West, as it is affectionately known, is a bit of a hit with the natural world. The geese are widely acknowledged as the campus’ original settlers, while Derwent College boasts more willow trees than the lake has swans (at my last count, at least two). For a time, the University of York held the unverified claim as the UK’s most duck-dense university.

The result is a campus community engaged in a charmingly symbiotic relationship with its wildlife. That same year, students were outraged by the suggestion that one of their number had smashed eggs in front of a distraught goose. The incident turned out to be a natural phenomenon.

It’s hardly a surprise, then, that when an unusually tall duck began popping up on campus sometime in 2018, the community quickly adopted him as their mascot.

 

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Standing at a mighty 2ft 4in tall, Long Boi was an Indian Runner Duck/Mallard cross who quickly grew to fame at the University of York and, ultimately, beyond. His Instagram account has more than 60,000 followers. He has his own Wikipedia page. In 2021, he made an unexpected cameo on The Late Late Show with James Corden. And on 11 March 2023, the university he called home told the world he was, in all likelihood, dead.

“During his time on campus, Long Boi brought joy to staff, students, alumni and visitors to York,” the statement reads. “Our beautiful campus and wonderful grounds team provided a rich life for him during the four years he lived with us.”

“We remain grateful for the incredible community of fans who have given their time, energy and skills to celebrating Long Boi and the abundance of wildlife found here.”


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“We are a campus bursting with flowers and fauna, and while we appreciate people may wish to leave floral tributes, we would instead encourage you to do something for the local environment, such as feeding the ducks at your local pond or making a charitable donation in Long Boi’s memory.”

Rohan Ashar, the students’ union’s current Activities Officer, has paid tribute to the avian mascot. Ashar recently shepherded Long Boi in his appearance on BBC Radio 1 in March.

“He [Long Boi] made it cool to stand out and was such a vital part of our campus community,” Ashar said.

“Everyone is going to miss their favourite duck, and he will be remembered fondly by anyone who has been at the University in the last few years. Live, Laugh, Löngth forever!”

Long Boi - Britain's most famous duck

Long Boi stood at a mighty 70cm tall

Long Boi was unique in both species and stature amongst the duck population at York, which made him a prime target for the strangely tribal sense of community which often grips campus universities. His fame has inspired the creation of a Long Boi Society, which hosts regular duck-feeding sessions. An April Fools joke declared he would take pride of place on the university’s new logo.

The story of an unusually tall duck may seem like an insular one. Long Boi’s celebrity status may have been the construct of a localised meme culture, but in a way his rise to global fame was a triumph of the old-fashioned university community. As a symbol of campus pride, he had a more unifying effect on the university population than a hundred societies and freshers events.

Nonsensical collective obsessions are far from unique to the University of York. In-jokes and knowing references have always been an essential part of the British university experience. When every open day and prospectus talks of a university community, they’re scarcely referring to a shared love of learning. In a way which is perhaps unique to the UK, where a slightly archaic further education system means every year thousands of 19-year-olds take their first real steps to independence.

At York, a community has grown not around books, but around ducks. As the tallest among them, both physically and metaphorically, Long Boi’s loss will be keenly felt at York and beyond. Earlier last year, a campaign emerged to build a statue of the Runner Duck on campus. Now, it will need a new label:

Here lies Long Boi – Britain’s most famous duck.


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