A baby duck? Why This Seemingly Perfect Easter Gift Isn’t Perfect.
This is the time of year when cute baby ducks and geese are on sale at Utah farm supply stores.
But too often, city dwellers pick up these little birds on a whim, get overwhelmed with the amount of care needed, and drop them in a pond or park to fend for themselves.
“It happens in almost every pond in Utah,” said Amy Needham of Puddle Ducks Rescue.
Unlike wild ducks, domestic ducks cannot take off when attacked by predators. They cannot migrate when cold weather sets in. They are bred for meat and eggs, which makes them too big to fly. Dropping a pet duck dooms it to a miserable, and possibly short, life.
“It’s like dropping a kitten in the forest,” warned Tiffany Young with Ducks and Clucks, “and saying, ‘Good luck, tiger.'”
Domestic ducks require a lot of care: heat lamps to keep warm, fresh water, protection from predators, and space to roam. But duck rescuers say they often see people picking them up on a whim as Easter gifts for children. Young said she had taken in two groups of ducks that teenagers had bought as part of “proposals”.
“It’s ‘I went to a dance with a boy and he left this on my porch to ask me,'” Young said. “I’m like, great, it’s going to live for seven to 10 years. Now what is your plan? »
RaeAnn Christensen with For Duck’s Sake rescue raises ducklings. The people who received two as gifts didn’t know how to care for the ducks, and the birds’ legs and feet got burned from sitting in their own droppings.
“There are no restrictions on ducks and adopting them. You can just buy them for 50 cents” at farm supply stores, Christensen said. “It’s such a systemic problem.”
She has helped rescue abandoned domestic ducks and geese with all kinds of injuries – fish hooks stuck in their cheeks, bitten and infected wings, broken legs. During a bad outbreak of botulism in 2020, she said, she had about 60 ducks in and out of her garage for over a month.
“It’s overwhelming because I’m not a real animal service [provider]. I’m doing this because I saw a need,” Christensen said. “How am I supposed to say no when there is an animal in need? It’s heartbreaking.
According to the Utah code, people are guilty of cruelty to an animal if they abandon a creature in their care. But most Utah refuges don’t take ducks or geese, and domestic flocks are outside the purview of state wildlife managers. Stores also do not allow customers to return their birds in an effort to prevent the spread of disease.
With few options for rehoming the birds, “sometimes people take their pet ducks to places where there are other ducks,” said Liz Sollis of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation. “We are not duck carers, for lack of a better word.”
Sollis said the Sugar House Park pond is especially popular for abandoned ducks. The pond had to be emptied early last year due to drought and to fight bird flu.
“This pond was not meant to be a duck pond,” she said. “It just became a duck pond.”
Last year, Weber State University had to remove about 40 domestic ducks and geese from its ponds with the help of rescue groups.
“It came to a head last September because they just kept going up,” said Weston Woodward, director of campus services. “Once these animals get bigger and aren’t as cute to play with, they get dropped off.”
In Highland City, Highland Glen Park has been contaminated with E. coli due to all the wild and domestic ducks in its pond, which is further exacerbated by the current drought, the Daily Herald reports.
And it’s not great for wild and domestic ducks to mix.
“Our population of wild ducks…they’re interbreeding with abandoned ducks, and it’s ruining the gene pool,” Needham said. “It ruins their camouflage, it reduces their instincts.”
Some advocates are trying to post signs in farm supply stores reminding shoppers that domestic birds are pets that need responsible care.
Tyler Stinson, spokesperson for IFA Country Stores, said his teams are regularly trained in poultry sales.
“In many cases, we have not authorized purchases if we suspect they are being purchased for a gift,” Stinson said. “Unfortunately, we cannot monitor every purchase and every transaction that occurs, and we have no control once they leave our premises what happens to them.”
IFA stores generally do not allow chicks and ducklings to be sold individually, as these are herd animals that do best in groups. If customers try to purchase a bird, Stinson said, employees are encouraged to ask if they have a suitable setup.
“They look very cute and harmless sitting there under a nice warm lamp where they’re comfortable,” he said. “But, like any other living thing, they do damage and need the right attention in order to thrive and be happy animals. And that’s ultimately what we want.
For those who care about adopting a duck or goose — and can afford to properly care for it — animal advocates are urging Utahns to consider a rescue or adoptive animal instead of buying into agricultural supply stores.
“If they wait a few weeks,” Young said, “there will be all the ducks they want and more because of people throwing them away.”
And for anyone looking for an adorable last-minute Easter gift, Young has some tips.
“A stuffed animal,” she said, “is a much better choice.”