Why Do Domestic Ducks and Geese Need Rescuing?
Domestic ducks and geese are often purchased as adorable babies in the spring. But soon they grow and become messy! Waterfowl also have quite specific shelter and nutritional needs, which most folks are unprepared to meet. This leads to older birds being abandoned, with many being dumped in local ponds and lakes. Duck dumping is a very common, very real problem!
Domestic Waterfowl Cannot Survive in the Wild
There are several serious issues that domestic waterfowl face in the wild:
- Domestic ducks and geese cannot fly
- They cannot migrate seasonally for food and warmth
- They face malnutrition and starvation
- Well-meaning people feed them inappropriate foods
- They lack the immunity to most diseases
- Wildlife organizations often do not consider them wild animals so cannot help them
Domestic waterfowl cannot survive in the wild. They have been bred to be larger and to grow faster than their wild waterfowl counterparts. Domestic breeds have lost their ability to fly. Most are too heavy, their feathers not long enough, and their muscles not developed properly. Consequently, many domestic ducks and geese who live in the wild are very vulnerable to predators. They also cannot find their own food as they have been bred to depend upon humans for their meal sources.
Contrary to popular belief, bread is not an adequate food source for domestic ducks and geese. So well-meaning people who feed bread to these birds at local ponds or lakes are actually doing them a disservice nutritionally. Domestic ducks and geese have not been bred, nor learned, how to forage in the wild for their own food.
The Difference Between Wild and Domestic Ducks
(taken from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
What is that strange looking duck at the local pond?
It’s probably a domestic duck.
When people go out looking for wild birds they seem to forget that domestic breeds exist. First rule of thumb: If your weird duck is found at a park, walking around on the grass or coming near people, it is probably a domestic duck. But, these domestic monsters do get mixed up in flocks of wild birds, too, so how do you spot them? Second rule of thumb: If your duck has large patches of white where you didn’t expect it, think domestic duck. People seem to love to breed white or partially white domestic animals, presumably because such mutations don’t do well in the wild and consequently are rare. Such mutations do turn up in the wild, though, and we’ll discuss them later, but for now, if you see big patches of white, think domestic duck.
Only two species of ducks have been domesticated: the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and the Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata). And these have been bred over the past centuries for certain specific characteristics, like hearty meat and abundant egg production.
Let’s deal with the Muscovy Duck first, as it’s pretty easy to tell. The most obvious character of a muscovy is the red facial skin. If your duck has a red face, it’s probably a Muscovy Duck. This red skin can be quite bumpy, exaggerated, and frankly, gross, with a knob on top of the bill and lumps all over. If you see that, it’s a slam dunk Muscovy Duck. The wild type plumage of muscovy is all black, glossy greenish on the back, and with large white wing patches.
But, because of our fondness for white, domestic muscovies can be pure white, all black, or any degree of pied black-and-white.
Mallard breeds can be somewhat confusing. They can be larger than normal or much smaller, darker or lighter, all white or all black. Watch for the little curled feathers on the back of the male, above the tail. Only the Mallard and its domestic descendants have those. (Well, the Hawaiian Duck does too, but the chances of seeing one of those around here is about zero.)
Again, lots of white is often involved, including all-white breeds like the popular Pekin Duck. Another common form is the bibbed version. It has a sort of normal body and head plumage, and a white chest. Other forms and crosses can have spots of white just about anywhere. Usually these white spots are not symmetrical across both sides, and that asymmetry should tip you off to think domestic influence.
Body size can often be a clue toward domesticity. The first breeds of domestic Mallard were bred for food, and consequently for large body size. A domestic duck can be twice the size of a wild Mallard. Even if they’re not obviously larger, they tend to be bulkier and more dumpy looking, especially in the belly. But, domestics can be smaller than normal too. Indian runner ducks are long and lean. These are very odd, tall, skinny ducks that look like bowling pins. They are great egg producers but have totally tubular bodies.
In California, many Mallards are actually wild ducks!
Mallards are Protected Species
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) protects nearly all of our country’s native birds. The law carries out the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada, and later treaties signed with Mexico, Japan, and Russia, in order to protect our nation’s shared bird species. The MBTA is credited with saving numerous species from extinction, such as the Snowy Egret, Wood Duck, and Sandhill Crane, and millions, if not billions of other birds.
Mallards are federally protected species, making it illegal to touch them, harrass them, and to relocate their nests.
What Do I Do If
I Find a Mallard Nest?
(or wild ducks in my yard or swimming pool…)
Since waterfowl are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, you cannot catch and move them yourself. It is a state and federal violation to disturb the nest of any bird, and you can’t take the eggs or move the nest. You might try contacting a permitted local wildlife rehabilitation center to ask for advice, but wildlife rehabbers cannot possess healthy wildlife or relocate the juvenile ducks or their mother. They can only take the ducklings if they are injured or orphaned, and technically they cannot do anything about the situation you’ve described unless the ducklings become injured or orphaned.
If this happens again, try covering the pool and hazing the ducks away before they build their nest. Once the eggs are laid, a person is “technically” powerless to do anything to the nest or eggs.
With spring nesting season underway for waterfowl and other birds, stumbling upon a mallard duck nest in what appears to be a dangerous or vulnerable spot can be a common occurrence. But what looks like a bad spot to you may not be for the duck, and moving the nest or interfering with it in any way may cause harm to both the duck and the nest.
If you find a duck nest, do not handle it or interfere with it in any way. A female mallard will not recognize her nest if it is moved, even just a short distance, the Toronto Wildlife Centre reports. Once moved, the nest will be abandoned.
In addition, take care not to disturb the nest. Disruptions could cause the adults to come off the eggs while they are being incubated, especially if the duck leaves the nest repeatedly or for extended periods of time, said Dave Robson, the Forest Preserve’s natural resources management supervisor. This can cause the duck not to be able to maintain the necessary incubation temperature, and then the eggs will not hatch.
Mallard ducks are also a federally protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so it is illegal to relocate the nest without a permit.
Mallard ducks choose their nesting locations carefully. They typically nest on dry ground near water, but look for a spot where they can be sheltered or hidden among the vegetation, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The female duck builds the nest from nearby vegetation, and once the eggs are laid she will sit on the nest to incubate them for about 30 days.
If you find a nest that seems vulnerable because of its location near a parking lot, building or busy road or sidewalk, the Toronto Wildlife Centre recommends taping off the area or putting up a sign or signs to alert passers-by to the nest.
And a word of caution: Don’t feed a nesting duck. It does not need food, because she bulked up in advance of laying the eggs to prepare for the incubation period. It’s actually not uncommon for nesting mallards not to eat for the entire time they are sitting on their eggs, the Toronto Wildlife Centre reports. In fact, leaving food such as bread may cause more harm than good because it can attract predators that may eat the eggs and destroy the nest, according to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center.
Occasionally, a duck may choose a nesting location that the ducklings will not be able to get out of. In these, cases, the Toronto Wildlife Centre recommends contacting a wildlife rehabilitator. If the ducklings have already hatched, provide a shallow bowl or pan of water for them until they can be relocated by a professional.
For a list of permitted wildlife rehab facilities, please go -to www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/WIL/rehab/facilities.html.
In San Diego County, call Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Krista Brown’s Rescue Hotline at (760) 877-6737 or Project Wildlife at (619) 299-7012
For more information on dealing with wild ducks and their nests:
So How Do I Know If It’s a Wild or a Domestic Duck?
Top 10 Domesticated Duck Breeds
Information taken from The Happy Chicken Coop website
If You See These in Your Local Park/Pond…They likely Were Dumped!
These are the top commercial meat production domestic duck breed globally, and arguably the most recognizable. The Aflac duck was a rescued Pekin. Donald Duck is also a Pekin.
These large domesticated ducks are superb meat birds and highly proficient layers of large white eggs.
Pekin ducks are affable, great foragers, and curious poultry birds.
Domesticated Muscovy Ducks
The domesticated version of this wild duck breed is a lean meat duck that still produces robustly flavored meat.
Muscovy ducks are also a bit of an oddity. They prefer to roost in the evening like chickens instead of curling up together with their flock mates at ground level.
Male Muscovy ducks cannot quack but instead have a call that is often deemed a “low and breathy” sound.
Hens of this domesticated breed lay around 120 creams to white medium to large eggs annually.
Mature Muscovy ducks generally weigh between eight to 10 pounds, on average.
When kept in a clean and healthy environment, ducks of this domesticated breed typically live between eight to 12 years.
Members of this domesticated duck breed are typically referred to as multi-purpose ducks.
You should be able to expect to collect up to five pretty white to blue-tinted eggs a week – except during the winter months when all poultry bird laying slows down.
Rouen ducks have beautiful plumage and are calm ducks, and are known to be a fairly quiet breed.
Mature members of this breed typically weigh between six to nearly eight pounds. Rouen hens usually lay between 140 to 180 large white eggs annually.
You will discover that domesticated duck breeds typically grow slower than some breeds and are largely kept for egg-laying purposes.
We found that the mature Crested duck hens commonly lay between 100 to 130 large white eggs annually.
It’s expected that a producing hen can lay between two to four eggs per week. You will see this during her prime egg-laying years.
Once mature, Crested ducks will typically weigh between six to a little more than seven pounds, on average.
Crested ducks are not raised for meat birds and do not have a lot of size to them. The meat that members of this domesticated duck breed produce do create a nice tasting and moist meat.
The only downside in keeping these smart and docile ducks is breeding them to further the longevity of the flock.
This consummate domesticated meat duck breed is prevalent in England both commercially and with residential backyard keepers.
The meat generated by the Aylesbury duck is incredibly moist, tender, and is pure white in color.
Finding Aylesbury ducks in the United States can be problematic but well worth the effort if you want a hardy, docile, and affable domesticated meat duck.
They are a rapid-growing duck and can hit mature butcher weight (five pounds) in as little as seven to nine weeks. Once fully mature, an Aylesbury duck tends to weigh in at roughly 10 pounds.
Hens lay between as few as 40 up to 120 medium to large white to light green eggs annually. The average lifespan of Aylesbury ducks is between eight to 10 years.
Members of this domesticated duck breed are exceptional layers and are prone to being good sitters, as well.
Khaki Campbell ducks are not often raised as meat and egg poultry birds because of their size. They are primarily kept as egg layers in the United States.
Khaki Campbell ducks weigh only around four to five pounds once they mature.
A mature Khaki Campbell hen usually lays between 170 to 230 extra-large white eggs per year. A female of this domesticated duck breed typically will begin laying eggs when she is only five to seven months old.
Khaki Campbell ducks are affable but often a bit leery of their human keepers initially until a trust bond is formed.
They are easy to train to free-range and go back up into their coop/duck house at night after foraging voraciously all day long.
This domesticated duck breed is a large meat duck type of poultry bird like the Pekin. They grow rapidly – and lay an above-average amount of white to light blue eggs in the process.
Saxony ducks are also highly regarded for being calm, affable to even affectionate with their keepers, as well as being naturally curious.
Mature ducks of this domesticated breed usually weigh between eight to nine pounds. Saxony duck hens lay between 80 to roughly 100 eggs per year.
The average lifespan of members of this duck breed is between eight to 12 years.
This is an excellent egg-laying domesticated duck breed. Keepers can expect to collect between three to five light brown large eggs per week from mature hens – totaling roughly 220 eggs per year.
Buff Orpington ducks are highly regarded for their affectionate demeanor and vast foraging abilities.
Artisans and craters also covet the beautiful buff feathers. Mature ducks of this domesticated breed weigh between eight to 10 pounds on average, making them a potential multi-purpose poultry bird.
On average, well-cared-for Buff Orpington ducks live eight to 12 years.
Members of this domesticated duck breed are excellent egg layers and typically offer keepers between 210 to up to 340 large white eggs annually.
Welsh harlequin ducks are medium-weight (about four to five pounds), making them not highly sought after as a meat breed.
However, due to their environmental hardiness and longevity, some backyard keepers – especially those on small (5 to 10 acres) acreage homesteads to have a steady source of both meat and eggs.
While these domesticated duck breeds do not produce a lot of meat, it is robustly flavored.
Welsh Harlequin ducks generally live for a decade when kept in a healthy environment and cared for property.
Ducks of this domesticated breed live nine to 12 years, on average. Magpie duck hens lay up to five colorful eggs weekly in shades of white, cream, light blue, and green.
A mature Magpie duck hen is capable of laying between 210 to 290 eggs annually, on average.
Magpie ducks are a light-class bird and rarely ever raised for their meat – although it tastes moist and tender. They weigh only three to five pounds once they mature.
They are a beautiful and affable duck breed that can live contentedly in either a duck house and run environment or a free-range friendly backyard or homestead.
Why Bear Ridge Ranch Rescue?
We are stepping in to help our domestic duck and goose friends. We realized there are few, if any, domestic waterfowl rescues in Southern California. Most of these birds are rescued by the Humane Society or by Wildlife Rescue organizations. Enter Bear Ridge Ranch Rescue.
We have the space and ability to care for these birds. We’re located in a rural area of Southern California that is zoned Agricultural, so we have different or little limits on how many animals we can have.