Domestic Ducks vs. Winter

Members of the group WRAP (Waterfowl Rescue and Placement) have been assisting in the care, feeding and removal of several domestic ducks and geese on Bungay Lake. A local veterinarian, Dr. Trapani, helped provide the educational information below.

To members of the Lake Association,

WRAP (Waterfowl Rescue and Placement) is a group of people whose members include a veterinarian, a representative from Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife, waterfowl breeders, backyard hobby farmers, animal shelter volunteers and others concerned with the birds’ welfare.

There are many domestic geese and ducks on the lake that, without human intervention, would die of starvation and/or get eaten by predators since they cannot fly. The domestic and wild waterfowl have very different nutritional requirements. The wild birds have evolved to survive on whatever they can find in nature. The domestic birds have been selectively bred for generations for high egg production, or for meat or as dual-purpose birds. Such birds cannot survive on a diet found in the wild.

The feed we are giving them is a compromise. We don’t want to provide the nutritious diet necessary for the domestic birds because it would be too rich for the wild birds. Instead, we are feeding cracked corn, which will keep the domestic birds from starvation but will not supply the nutrition they need to keep them in good health. One problem is that breeding season is approaching and these ducks and geese have not been able to store up the calcium needed to produce hard-shelled eggs. It’s possible that many of the females will die from problems associated with a calcium deficiency.

In addition to the differences in dietary needs, WRAP has several other concerns (not necessarily listed in order of significance).

No one should be feeding the wild birds. It encourages them to stay in the vicinity of the food throughout the winter instead of migrating. In fact, studies have shown that if the parents don’t migrate, their offspring won’t either – because they don’t know the route to what should be their winter home. So you get successive generations on your lake in the winter.

It seems that some people think that bread is good for them. They love bread – it’s like candy – but it is not a good feed for birds, even the wild ones. One problem with bread is that it fills them up and they don’t forage for their proper diet. Another is that the birds do not develop adequate muscle tone. Therefore, even if they knew the way, they are not physically capable of flying the distance to a winter home.

Another concern is that when the wild and domestic birds interbreed, the wild gene pool becomes diluted and the offspring are generally weaker. This is perpetuated through successive generations.

The addition of the domestic waterfowl on the lake causes several problems. One is that they are competing with the wild birds for what little food is available during the harsh winter months. They are contributing to the contamination of the lake waters and surrounding area. It’s possible for the domestic birds to introduce new diseases to the wild bird population for which the wild birds have no immunity.

As the snow recedes, the ducks and geese are venturing farther from the lake in search of food and nesting sites. They are walking on the road, causing drivers to swerve and stop short, thus causing a traffic hazard.

It appears that some time in late fall or early winter, someone (or ones) dumped domestic waterfowl on your lake. WRAP’s short-term goal is to remove as many of the domestic birds as we can and place them in good homes. We’ve already done so with some of them but there are still more to capture and place with people who will take care of them.

If new domestic birds should be placed on the lake next year, we would like to mount a rescue as soon as possible after the birds appear so that we can avoid all the problems that their presence produces.

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