Feeding the ducks has become fine kettle of fish
The Muscovy ducks, native to South America, are either taking over neighborhoods or "fun to watch," depending on whom you ask.
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
Published August 12, 2005
PORT RICHEY - If you've been sneaking bread crumbs or bird feed to those feathered quackers, watch out. Your neighbor - the nosy one peering over the bushes - could be waiting to turn you in.
The annual Muscovy duck invasion has gotten so bad in west Pasco areas like Jasmine Lakes that County Commissioner Jack Mariano urged residents this week to rat out the duck feeders.
Go ahead: Turn in your neighbors. Tattle on your friends. Mariano even gave out the state's Wildlife Alert Hotline number: 1-888-404-3922. "What we need to do is have the residents not feed the ducks," Mariano declared at the televised Pasco County Commission meeting on Tuesday.
"You mean you can anonymously turn in the duck feeders?" Commissioner Steve Simon asked incredulously.
But it won't do much good.
"We have no legal authority to cite somebody for feeding ducks. There's no law against it," Gary Morse, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman, told the Times on Thursday. "It's just a very bad and dangerous idea."
Muscovies, the black-and-white birds with warty red flesh around their bills, can be aggressive panhandlers, and they leave duck doo everywhere.
The messes can stain driveways and cause respiratory problems for people.
If ducks are fed around ponds where alligators are present, Morse said, the gators will start to associate humans with food, and their instinctive fear of people will fade away. Over time, he said, those gators become more likely to attack someone.
It's against state law to feed alligators, bears, foxes, raccoons and sandhill cranes. A Charlotte County couple were arrested last month and accused of throwing crab bait scraps to gators in the Peace River. (Mariano misspoke Tuesday when he told commissioners the couple had been arrested "for feeding the ducks.")
While it isn't illegal, experts say, feeding the ducks creates a nuisance and prevents Muscovies from getting the nutrients they need from a natural diet of bugs and pond algae.
Even the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urges people not to feed Muscovies, which are a foreign, invasive species from South America.
"They are perfectly capable of feeding themselves," said Stephanie Boyles, a PETA wildlife biologist. "If anything, they're doing us a favor by keeping the algae and the invertebrate population under control."
Fish and Wildlife won't cite the duck feeders, and Pasco County Animal Control won't round up the birds (they don't handle wildlife or livestock, manager Denise Hilton said).
That leaves frustrated residents like Pamela Boccaccio to fend for themselves. Some nights, she said, she can look down her street in Jasmine Lakes and see up to 50 Muscovies waddling her way.
"If anyone has seen the movie The Birds, picture it with the ducks," she said.
Her neighbor sees it differently. Ed Powers tosses out old bread or stale cereal for the ducks every other day because "it's fun to watch them," he said. The ducks leave droppings behind, he acknowledged, but "you wash it off and it's done."
"The ducks were here first," said Powers, watching a mama duck and her young forage for natural grub near his front porch Thursday afternoon. "We're encroaching on their land. . . . If I stop feeding them, they'll just go somewhere else and someone will feed them."
Which is why Boccaccio and 78 other homeowners have signed a petition urging county officials to outlaw duck feeding.
"(Commissioner Mariano) thinks by word of mouth you can educate people as to the consequences of feeding the ducks and they'll abide by what you ask," Boccaccio said.
"I don't think it's that simple. Otherwise, we wouldn't have this problem to begin with."
Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is email@example.comWHAT TO DO ABOUT THE DUCKS
Muscovy ducks are a foreign, invasive species, so they are not protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Nor will Animal Control round them up. Residents have a couple of options:
Don't feed the ducks. The experts agree it just makes the problem worse.
Hire a trapper to take the ducks somewhere else. Ideally, a homeowners group would make the arrangements. A list of trappers is available online at http://myfwc.com/trappers Tamper with the eggs to curb the population. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals PETA recommends putting vegetable oil on the eggs after the hen has laid them, but before she starts incubating them. The oil cuts off the gas exchange needed for life to develop inside the egg. (Don't destroy the nest, however; the hen will just start a new one.)
Humanely euthanize the ducks on your own property. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommends decapitation, breaking the neck or (in non-neighborhood areas where firearms are allowed) gunshot to the brain.