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Think before adopting waterfowl as pets

Domestic ducks and geese do not survive well after being abandoned. Above, Wildwoods employee Christa Feely Pederson with a white goose. (Photo: Wildwoods)

At Wildwoods we typically do not take in domestic animals. But what we are finding more and more of, sadly, are domestic ducks and geese that have been released into the wild to fend for themselves. We get calls about these friendly birds approaching people as winter sets in. People assume they are injured because they cannot fly, when in reality they are just cold, hungry and scared. If we didn't take them in, they would have nowhere else to go.

I would like to implore those people out there considering obtaining domestic waterfowl as pets to familiarize yourself with what you are signing on for. For those of you who think you would never get a baby duck or goose as a pet, this is a warning not to make an impulse purchase in the spring when you see the cute fuzzy little darlings.

Talk to someone who has them. They will tell you how messy they are and how devoted and attached to their human family they become. Like adding any other pet to your home, they come with responsibilities and commitment.

When domestic ducks and geese get older, they often lose their appeal to the families that adopted them. It seems convenient to dump them by a pond or lake to join a wild flock, but this is a heartbreaking choice. The first obstacle facing them is having to forage for all of their food when before it was provided. Come winter, because domestic waterfowl are bred to be slow and relatively flightless, they are not capable of migrating with their wild counterparts. As their ponds freeze over they are left with no shelter or food source. They slowly starve or become easy prey for predators, from which they cannot defend themselves.

Many of these birds form deep attachments to their families and suffer the same trauma a dog or cat faces when parted from its loving home. This summer we took in a white goose that was dumped at a cemetery. He was distressed and desperately following visitors around. He was a guest at Wildwoods for a week and could not bear to be separated from people. He was happiest following us around as we worked, always keeping us within sight. When these animals come in after being out on their own, I can honestly say they show signs of genuine relief at being saved. They get to relax for the first time in weeks. It is heartbreaking that they ended up alone out in the cold. We are usually able to find these discarded birds other loving homes with people who care for them as they would any other family pet.

There is also a risk to the wild flocks when domestics are introduced. They can carry diseases that they themselves are immune to but wild flocks are not. There have been cases of huge flocks of wild birds dying from viruses contracted from domestic birds. They can also interbreed, resulting in hybrids that weaken the gene pool of the wild flock.

If you have a waterfowl member of your family that you can no longer care for, please find it another home instead of abandoning it to the wild. Call us for assistance if necessary. Again, this is not a service we typically provide, but we would rather help you rehome an animal now than take one in later that has been starving and cold. All animals deserve to live out their natural lives. Wild animals should remain wild, but domestic ducks and geese were born to be cared for by people. We need to acknowledge and appreciate the difference.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

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