If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it's a cat.

That's Malley the mallard's vision of the world anyway.Malley's a month-old odd duck that belongs to Cindy Nelson of Salt Lake City. Cindy got the bird as a Easter present, about the same time sister Jenny's pet cat Atis had her spring litter of kittens.

"The duck was the same size as the kittens, it was brown and white like them, so I guess the mother cat thought it was just a member of the brood," says the Nelson girls' mother, Kathy. "The mother cat started licking it, nursing it, cuddling it. I thought cats were supposed to eat birds for dinner."

Not near-sighted cats apparently.

But then ducks have a history of glomming onto other creatures for role models.

"It happens quite often in birds," says LaMar Farnsworth, director of Hogle Zoo, "We call it `imprinting.' The first living thing a bird sees after it hatches is where it will go. It says `Hey, there's mom!' People have had ducks take to them, for instance, follow them around and quack as if the duck thought it were a human being. Researchers make whole careers out of studying this kind of thing."

Years ago, Martin de Porres, a Peruvian priest, was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. One of the miracles that got Martin the honor was his talent for getting mice and cats to eat from the same bowl.

Given those requirements, getting a duck to nurse from a cat should have Cindy Nelson on the road to sainthood in no time.

Malley's looking more like a duck every day now but still loves to squeeze in among the kittens for a morning meal. As the little barbs in her bill begin to develop, however, you can bet Mama cat will soon be having second thoughts.

As for the two Nelson girls, the neighborhood is standing by, waiting for the girls' next trick: teaching one of the cats to fly.