Under cover of darkness, the housing inspectors pull up each night outside a Laurel apartment complex to evict scores of the most popular tenants.
The ducks of Larchdale Woods are getting the boot.
For the last two nights, an animal control truck has arrived in the parking lot and reluctant resident managers have been ordered to fill it wil as many as possible of the hundreds of ducks that live on the apartment grounds.
So far, more than 100 of the residents' fine-feathered friends have been packed away.
It seems they are in violation of some obscure section of the Prince George's County zoning law: no ducks in an R-30 zone.
"I thought the cats were getting them," said one resident, who came out to feed his favorite fowl and had not heard about the duck truck that slinks away in the cold light of morning.
The county already is feeling somewhat uneasy about its role in ferreting out the fowl, and County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, who is being blamed by some as the mastermind of the scheme, insists he really likes the birds.
At least one member of Congress is making inquiries. And a band of refugee ducks from Larchdale Woods has occupied the county office building in Upper Marlboro.
It all began when Betty Walling, who has lived in a house next to the apartment complex and its duck pond for nine years, decided she would no longer make way for ducklings.
"I just got tired of always having ducks everywhere," Walling said. "It has been terrible. They get in my pool, the swim in my fountain, and they come and do messy things on my patio."
Walling said she called dozens of county offices seeking relief.
"I would tell them I had a duck problem, but they just laughed at me," she said. "Finally I called Larry Hogan's office. That was no help either. Everyone just told me to call the police."
Eventually, the Department of Licenses and Permits agreed to take the case.
"Actually, I don't know how we got involved in this one," said Charles Deegan, acting deputy director of the department. "You try and do something nice for someone, try and find a happy home for some ducks, and look what happens. We've got [U.S. Rep.] Gladys Spellman calling about it."
Last July, Deegan's housing inspectors informed the manager of the apartments, Lynne Lee, that they intended to "thin out" the duck population at Larchdale Woods.
"They've been here even before the project was built," Lee protested. "There are tenants who moved here for them. Families come out here on weekends to see them. They bring the elementary school kids here on field trips. I don't know what went wrong."
In its first foray last July, the duck truck picked up 50 fowl and deposited them on the banks of a landscaped pond just outside the county administration building in Upper Marlboro.
"That," Deegan concedes, "was a mistake."
The next morning the ducks were waddling through the corridors of the county office building and shepherding their young down Main Street. Most of the ducks were recaptured and taken away, but "we left about 10 there, and I think they've been breeding," Deegan said. "We could have to go back there again."
With the return of the truck, apartment manager Lee said, "I'm sort of afraid to tell the tenants here that we have to get rid of all the ducks. Some of them are so attached to them I know I'll lose tenants because of this.
"We have paper drives in the winter to buy food for them."
What's more, Lee and her employes don't like going out every night to fill the county's truck.
"It's such a messy job," said maintenance worker Greg Lee. "You pick them up, and they get excited, and then you have to go and take three showers before you can clean all the mess off. If they want to get rid of the ducks, why can't they come and do it themselves?"
Apartment manager Lee said: "If anyone asks, I tell them that Larry Hogan ordered us to get rid of all our ducks, whether we like it or not. But I don't think it's fair. And I'm not going after the little ones. Let somebody else get their eyes pecked out."
Hogan's role, however, would appear to be more benign.
The county is trying to resettle the ducks at a farm at the southern end of the county that belongs to the parents of Anita Pinner, a secretary in Hogan's office.
"My mother loves all kinds of little animals," Pinner said. "She said she wouldn't mind taking some ducks for their pond, or if there are too many they can fence them up with the chickens. There's plenty of food there, they won't starve to death, and they are staying right here in P.G. County. These are P.G. ducks."
"I don't think it's fair to put this one on Hogan," Deegan said. "Larry likes ducks. He liked the ducks we brought to Upper Marlboro. He wanted to get feeders for them and maybe mix in a couple of swans."
"We've tried to be nice about this," Deegan added. "We thought we were doing a good thing. After all, we could have one in there and shot them or something."