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April 14, 2003

A holiday disaster

Abandoned Easter ducklings pose environmental and health hazards

It seems so innocent, some think even kind, to feed bread to the “park ducks.” International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia, California wants people to know that domestic ducks and geese need proper diets as a steady diet of bread and crackers can kill them. Easter ducklings may end up being abandoned in public parks, which is against the law in many states, and for good reasons. The problem worsens this time of year.

With Easter coming, some pet shops, even ones in urban areas and in the middle of large cities, will sell live ducklings, chicks and bunnies, with no regard for the animals, the environment or the people buying them. Sometimes ducklings and chicks are given to children as prizes in Easter egg hunts, although this is illegal in some states. Most of these animals will live short miserable lives. Easter baskets of live animals are not only cruel, but also dangerous, as children can become infected with Salmonella by handling them.

When the novelty wears off and the reality of caring for an animal with special needs sets in, these animals, typically bought “on impulse” will end up abandoned in a local park to fend for themselves.

Many people think that all ducks and geese are the same. But the reality is that domestic ducks and geese have been breed to be slow and flightless. They can’t fly to escape the jaws of dogs, raccoons and other predators. When food supplies run out, they can’t fly to other lakes and ponds like wild ducks and geese. Or, the problem goes the other way, with overpopulation occurring. Well meaning people feed them bread, crackers, popcorn and other junk food that fills them up, but offers no nutritional value, leading to malnutrition. As they weaken they are more prone to disease. Botulism, Newcastle disease, duck virus enteritis (DVE), and avian cholera are all diseases that domestic ducks can spread to wild flocks. Outbreaks have caused the deaths of thousands of birds at a time.”

The center’s rehabilitation professionals see the end results of this practice of selling live ducklings at Easter. “One of the biggest problems is hybridization,” says Karen Benzel, Public Affairs Director of IBRRC. Wildlife rescue centers readily accept wild native ducks that are injured or orphaned, but will not take domestic ducks, or hybrids, which result when domestics mate with wild ducks, like mallards.

IBRRC, which manages two rehabilitation centers in California, specializes in waterfowl and aquatic birds and in educating the public to the problems they face in the environment.

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Media contact:

Karen Benzel, IBRRC, (831) 622-7588, karen@ibrrc.org

Jennifer Mack, Auto Club, (415) 565-2315, jennifer_mack@csaa.com


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