Move over, “gray duck.”
A fluffy white bird from St. Paul is currently the most famous duck in Minnesota, thanks to some fast feet, fowl puns and a viral video.
Last week, Derek Johnson posted 17 seconds of his pet, Ben Afquack, drumming with his webbed feet on a snare. The video got a million views overnight on Facebook. It’s now up to 3 million, with tens of thousands of comments and shares, and more on other platforms. Ben Afquack’s Instagram, @minnesotaduck, has grown to 41,000 followers. On a visit to the Winter Carnival this past weekend, Johnson and his pet were mobbed by fans trying to take photos for their own social media accounts.
The instant fame is all a little overwhelming for Johnson, 29, and his 10-month-old companion, whom he takes with him on “adventures” all over the Twin Cities.
“It blew up,” Johnson said of the drumming video. “People are making it into rap beats. A Detroit radio station was doing freestyle over the top of the beat. People are making remixes. It turned into this weird snowball thing. I don’t have time to keep up with all the messages.”
That’s just since the video took off, but Ben Afquack already had a devoted following before this latest hit.
The popular Instagram account chronicles the duck’s adventures with Johnson and his wife. There are photos of the duck at the State Fair, near a waterfall, and on the back of Johnson’s motorbike.
“We brought him to the zoo. We brought him to the Mall of America. We even brought him to the gym once. The whole goal was to get him used to being around people and doing things with us,” Johnson said. “We wanted to socialize him and have him be more of a pet than a goldfish or a farm duck.”
It would seem they got more than they bargained for.
When a friend posted a photo of the duck last spring with the caption, “Felt cute. might delete idk,” Ben Afquack began his journey to become a full-blown social media star.
In a phone interview with the Star Tribune, Johnson explains how his fluffy friend became famous.
Q: Tell us the story of Ben Afquack.
A: I used to have a duck when I was a little bit younger, and, long story short, I was in a different place and in the breakup, she got to keep the duck. I got super attached to the stupid thing. I couldn’t believe how much I loved that little duck. I was like, ‘Someday, when I have my own house and I’m in a different place in life, I’m going to get another duck.’ When I bought a house, a week before we closed, I bought the duck. He was 1 day old, and he’s been going everywhere with me ever since.
Q: Where are some of the places you’ve taken him?
A: We take him hiking a lot, and we take him to beaches. He went kayaking with me. I brought him paddleboarding. He rides on the back of my mini motorcycle in the summer, in a pet carrier. We go everywhere on that, exploring different places.
Q: Do you ever worry about him swimming away?
A: I couldn’t get rid of him if I tried. He is so attached to us. He won’t even go in the water unless I’m in there with him. He won’t get more than 5 feet away from me. He’ll notice and quack frantically and start to chase after me.
That’s what I fell in love with. I’ve only heard of ducks as farm animals. But these things actually have personalities.
Q: What’s Ben Afquack’s personality?
A: He likes to cuddle, believe it or not. I’ll scoop him up and put his back to my chest and lean back, and he falls asleep on my chest while watching movies.
He’s very playful. He was raised with dogs, so he’ll jump in and play with the dogs.
He tries to nibble everything. He’ll nibble on zippers.
He’ll quack when I come home. When we open the door, he’ll quack from wherever he is in the house.
Q: Do you let him be free in your house all day?
A: In the evenings. Right now, we made a shed into a duck mansion, and I feed him on a schedule. He’s a very messy eater and he’s not going to do that anywhere near my house. By the time I get home, I go get him, let him take a bath, and then he’s all pooped out by that point. I put his duck diaper on him and he roams free.
Q: How did he wind up on Instagram?
A: To be completely honest, it started as a way to kind of make fun of Instagram. Obviously he’s adorable. But he had this one picture where he’s walking away and he looked back, like an Instagram model, very provocative. While we were sitting there, my friend made a fake account with that one picture. We had four followers. Then I posted a picture of me on my motorcycle with him and it blew up. And one thing led to another. [Johnson’s friend still manages the account.]
I don’t really do much social media. I’m not hip like that. I didn’t even have an Instagram account until my friend made this one. I wanted to see what the rest of the world is seeing with my duck. I don’t even know how to work it.
Q: Why is he called ‘Minnesota Duck’?
A: The original name was Sir Quacksalot. As he started getting more popular, we were trying to figure out what represents what he does. Pretty much, he’s a duck that goes on adventures in Minnesota. It’s all local, homegrown stuff.
We brought him to the Winter Carnival. Oh my god, it was crazy. People were recognizing us from the video. They were treating it like they were meeting Tom Brady. We got like 2 pictures and we had to get out of there.
Q: What’s next for Ben Afquack?
A: I totally don’t expect this to happen, but what I would love to do is use the popularity to bring him to a hospital or a treatment center, a place where I could bring some happiness to someone who’s not having a good day. People lose their minds when they meet him. It’s crazy how much he makes people’s day. I’d like to try to lift people’s spirits.
Q: What do you do, Derek?
A: I’m in school for computer science and I work full-time as a personal trainer.
About 6 years ago, I got clean. I was a drug addict for many years, so I feel like I missed out on a lot of the things people do when they’re younger, because of the poor life choices I made. Ever since I got clean, my whole mentality has been try to move forward as much as possible, but also have fun along the way. I do everything I can not to take life so seriously. I’m psyched to be on the other side of things, and be alive, that I try to have as much fun as possible.
Q: What else should fans know about Ben Afquack?
A: As cool as he seems online, he’s about a thousand times cooler than that. A thousand times friendlier than you can imagine. He even lets you pet him. If you pet the side of his face, he falls asleep.
Q: This makes me want to get a pet duck.
A: I think everyone should. I thought it was such a dumb idea, but we got a little baby duck. A cute little puff ball who would eventually be a full-size bird. I don’t know why people don’t do this. If more people get ducks, we could have playdates. Except he’s actually afraid of ducks. When we brought him to the beach, he saw ducks and he ran behind the dog.