Dumped domesticated ducks pose problems in wild

February 01, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Some steal into neighborhood parks under cover of darkness, seeking to dispose of unwanted waterfowl. Others brazenly do the deed in the light of day.

Call them duck dumpers.

"We just stopped a guy last month who had 10 ducks in the back of his car," said Deborah Yeater, superintendent of Lake Waterford Park in Pasadena.

While that man apparently did not surreptitiously return to deposit the birds at night, other people have done that, helping to fill parks around the state with an assortment of abandoned pet fowl: ducks, geese, even chickens.

Twelve-acre Lake Waterford, for example, is home to 35 geese and 75 ducks -- a United Nations of domestic breeds -- and a watering hole for about 100 transient mallards.

The situation there is similar to that in community ponds all over the state, officials said.

"None of the ducks and geese that are here were born here," Ms. Yeater said. "They've all been dropped here," he said.

"It's a real chronic problem," said Marilyn Mause, Maryland Department of Natural Resources regional wildlife manager for Central Maryland.

"You pretty much go to any community pond and you can see non-native ducks," said Clifton Horton, DNR district wildlife manager for Montgomery and Howard counties.

State regulations ban the release into the wild of any nonnative animal that may harm native animals or plants. The maximum fine for a first offense is a $1,500 fine per animal released, but officials said they cannot recall anyone being fined for dumping domesticated waterfowl.

Kenneth D'Loughy, DNR wildlife manager for Southern Maryland, says well-intentioned people assume that if they bring the fowl to a place that has water it will live happily ever after. They often don't.

Just ask Terry Moritz and Donna Jones, two women from Pasadena who often come to the aid of birds in distress. Both have taken formal courses in caring for injured wildlife.

On a wind-whipped Sunday two weeks ago, the women made three trips to Friendship Park in Glen Burnie, where the pond was frozen over and the birds needed water. The third trip made the two women scream in anger.

"I found skate tracks on the ice that stopped in a bloody mess," Ms. Moritz said.

Someone had skated into a domesticated duck, piercing its lung, leaving the bird to die. The skaters, whom the women had beseeched at midday to avoid birds at the pond, were gone.

Still there were the eight ducks, one goose and two bantam chickens the women came to the pond to help -- all birds that could not fly, all abandoned pets that should not have been there in the first place.

The women took six ducks and the goose to Lake Waterford Park for the winter.

They took an injured Pekin duck to a veterinarian who operated and stitched up its chest. The bird is recuperating at Ms. Moritz's home, where she gives it antibiotics every few hours, changes its bedding, feeds it and -- because its breast feathers were shaved for surgery -- keeps it out of drafts.

"I will try to find a home for him," she said. "Actually, he is a very affectionate duck. He is a very obvious pet."

Another of the rescued ducks came home with Ms. Moritz as well -- a duckling so young it had a peep-like voice but had yet to grow its oiled winter feathers. "So it's obvious someone dumped that one," Ms. Jones said.

"It's also obvious somebody dumped the chickens because there is no way chickens would be there on their own," she said. The chickens, unable to stay warm outdoors without huddling among the better-insulated ducks, are staying with Ms. Moritz while she looks for homes for them, too.

It's not easy. Wildlife sanctuaries prefer wild animals, and animal shelters are geared toward placing furry pets.

The situation is complicated by ambiguous regulations governing their sale and by whether they are covered by local animal control ordinances.

The domesticated birds do not belong in the wild. Despite their down coats, domesticated fowl often cannot survive a winter. They are at the mercy of people for food, and they can't fly away when their pond freezes over. Even those that are able to fly don't know where to go or what environment to seek because they are accustomed to quarters with food, shelter and water.

The birds often become targets for roving dogs, snapping turtles, hawks, even each other. A lone newcomer to an established flock of fowl can get pecked to death by the welcoming committee.

Anne Arundel County spends as much as $1,000 each winter on corn to feed the birds in Lake Waterford Park, Ms. Yeater said.

Year round, park visitors bring them bread, seeds and the like. In warm weather hungry birds eat lakeside vegetation, leaving bare spots by the shore.

The fowl are an attraction, but the park can't support any more, Ms. Yeater said. About a decade ago, the population had gotten so large it had to be thinned out by taking fowl to Eastern Shore farms and water treatment plants throughout the region.

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