An event that could be called “Project Duck Rescue” took place early Sunday morning, initiated by animal lover Kim Weldy out of her concern for the plight of the domestic ducks and geese at Elliott Pond.
The pond, located behind Stater Bros. off Ramona Street, has been a haven for migratory waterfowl. It has also, unfortunately, become a dropoff spot for people who no longer want their pet ducks, said Weldy. People see the pond as the perfect spot for ducks, she said, and they think “ducks are ducks.”
While wild ducks, such as mallards, are migratory and can fly, many people don’t realize that domestic ducks such as the white Pekin duck with the orange bill, have a heavy body, are slow and cannot fly away, Weldy said.
Weldy, who started rescuing ducks three years ago, stopped by Elliott Pond often and kept track of the different ducks that would show up.
“In the spring there were nine Pekin ducks,” she said. “Most of the people probably got them as cute pets.”
She knows people find ducklings adorable, but, she said, at 4 to 6 weeks old, the ducks become more adult and “make adult messes” and that’s when people want to get rid of them.
“They’re really barnyard animals,” she said.
Weldy said there is a federal law against dumping ducks into the wild.
According to Terri Halverson, who is involved with Project Wildlife, because the domestic ducks are slower and heavy-bodied, they are more likely to be prey for other animals, such as coyotes or dogs. A dog had been seen going into the pond area, chasing the ducks, said Halverson, also a Ramona resident.
Many of the ducks at the pond mated with other breeds, including the wild ducks, “tainting the wild population,” Halverson said. “What you have is a pure and impure mallard population.”
With breeding occurring at the pond, the number of domestic ducks had grown. Weldy said most of the ducks at the pond were “mutt ducks. They can’t fly and are stranded there.”
As long as there was water, the ducks could survive. Weldy learned from a recent article in the Ramona Sentinel that the owner of the pond, Jim Hagey, had to temporarily stop pumping water into the pond because it was becoming too costly for him, she worried about the ducks. She hadn’t realized that Hagey was pumping water into the man-made pond, but she knew the pond would go dry in the warm weather. Without water in the pond, Weldy knew time was of the essence for the ducks’ survival and she sprang into action.
Weldy contacted Hagey to get his permission to remove the ducks from the pond. Hagey said he was all in favor of it. The ducks, he said, were “one of the reasons I kept the water in there.”
Weldy also placed an ad on Craigslist titled “Rescued Ducks Need Homes.” In the ad she named the various breeds of domestic ducks at the pond: “a variety of Pekins, runners, Swedish blacks, Rouens, Muscovys & mixed breeds.”
“I was surprised at the amount of interest I received,” Weldy said
She also enlisted the help of Halverson, who is experienced with duck rescues. Weldy was able to round up several other adults and teens, including her daughter, Sarah, to help herd the ducks out of the pond, get them into crates and transport them to either new homes or a temporary residence.
Meeting at 7 a.m. Sunday, July 26, the group took about half an hour to unload the pet crate carriers and set up an enclosure or catch pen.
The ducks appeared to be hungry. When food was thrown on the embankment, they came out of the water to eat. The group herded about 26 ducks and two geese into the enclosure and put them into the carriers. The carriers were then loaded into cars and trucks. The whole process went much quicker than originally estimated.
“We had wonderful help,” said Halverson. “We set the feed out, everyone was hungry and marched their feet out. We didn’t catch them. We walked them in.”
The geese and most of the ducks were transported to Weldy’s house, where she already has a collection of rescued ducks, along with rescued dogs, cats, horses and tortoises. With a couple of enclosures already set up on her property, the helpers opened the carriers and let the ducks and geese walk out. A few needed a little prodding.
There was quite a variety: some were all white, some black and white, and some were different shades of brown. Three of the brown ducks stayed together; Weldy said they were looking for their mom—a goose.
When the mom arrived with the other goose and was put into another enclosure, she paced around looking for her children. Weldy explained that the goose had “adopted” the ducks and had taken care of them.
Besides the enclosures on her property, Weldy has children’s plastic wading pools and buckets for the ducks to splash around in and from which they can drink.
Several people have already offered to take some ducks, but others still need homes. While a pond is nice for the ducks, Halverson said it should be a protected pond where wild ducks won’t mix with the domestic ducks.
With so many ducks and geese, Weldy knew she would need a lot of food. In her Craigslist ad, Weldy said donations of food would be greatly appreciated. Kahoots and Diamond D in Ramona came through, and both have offered to donate four 50-pound bags of chicken feed and grains for the ducks. That will last about eight weeks, Weldy said.
Ducks eat grasses, weeds and grains, said Weldy.
“A lot of people feed them bread, crackers and popcorn, which is not good for them,” she said.
Bread fills up their stomachs, without any nutritional value, she explained, and then they do not eat their natural food and start to depend on humans to feed them.
“Everyone everywhere feeds them bread,” said Halverson. Bread is “not a good nutritional value.”
Although ducks eat vegetation, they also need some protein, she said. If they have an improper diet, “their feathers deteriorate” and will not be waterproofed. If that happens, “they can’t stay warm and lose their buoyancy in the water,” Halverson said.
According to Halverson, it would be better if people fed the ducks watermelon and romaine lettuce rather than bread. She even suggested cut-up grapes and tomatoes.
Don’t give these to wild ducks, she said. “But my domestics fight over tomatoes.”
Like Weldy, Halverson stressed, “It is illegal to dump domestic ducks.”
Realizing that many people do not know much about domestic ducks, Halverson said, “I hope people will learn from this.”
Anyone interested in adopting rescued ducks may contact Weldy at 619-417-7637.