Highland Glen Park pond is a typical Utah fishing pond with an unfortunate problem of dumped domestic ducks. Let’s detail the many problems with dumped domestic ducks in public parks and ponds by using Highland Glen as an example.
I’ve labeled all the dumped domestic pet ducks in the photo above. Most of the birds here are dumped. There are domestic rouen, pekin, Indian runner, Swedish, cayuga, khaki, Appleyard, Ayelsbury, buff and muscovy ducks. These same breeds of domestic ducks are dumped at most every pond throughout Utah. You can tell a dumped domestic duck from a wild duck because it is 2-4x larger than a mallard and usually much more friendly. All white ducks in parks are dumped domestic pet ducks. Almost all dumped domestic pet ducks cannot fly.
Why is it wrong to dump ducks?
It’s illegal to dump domestic ducks and geese, against Utah code: Title 76 Chapter 9 Part 3 Section 301. It’s also cruel. These domestic ducks are bred to be so large they can’t fly much, if at all. They need food support and often start to starve in winter when weather turns cold, kids go back to school and no one comes to feed them. In some parks with regular visitors, they get enough handouts to survive. But even then, they’re subject to off-leash dogs, vulnerable to other predators and prone to foot and leg injuries (often from fishing line and hooks). The largest breeds get sick first, because they don’t get enough nutritious food to thrive.
Also, they don’t belong in the wild. They cause overpopulation, they breed with wild ducks to create more manky/half-mallards that take up resources of wild birds, contribute to poor water quality and erode the shoreline and native plants. This past month I visited 5 ponds between Ogden and Provo and counted well over 200+ dumped domestic ducks and geese. Most came running when I offered them scratch grains.
“What’s wrong with the ducks at Highland Glen? They look okay to me.”
Several times we’ve heard the ducks at Highland Glen are just fine. That’s not true. We first heard about this pond in 2016-2017 when a local resident saw two wild mallards that had been shot by arrows. The arrows had fallen off, but the tips were still sticking inside the bodies of the ducks. Both ducks were flighted and we could not catch them. It’s highly likely they died from infection. That same year, college kids dumped ducklings at the pond that they’d bought as a joke but could’t keep. We took them in. The next year more ducklings were dumped, and we took in several. The worst case was a beautiful young Indian runner duck who was very, very sick.
This poor duckling cried and cried until we could get it to the veterinarian the next day. We had no idea what was wrong until the vet took an x-ray.
Sadly the duckling had to be immediately euthanized to end its suffering.
We have also taken in three ducks from Highland Glen that had serious leg and foot injuries, most due to fishing line and hooks left behind by fishermen.
Maude was nearly scalped from overmating at the pond, which likely caused her leg injury too.
She was in a lot of pain when she arrived, and she required several weeks of treatment to recover.
Kenny was also rescued from Highland Glen with a serious leg injury. Both of these ducks required leg drains, weeks of recovery and rest. They were adopted out together to a safe forever pet home once they recovered.
Doogie is a new rescue from Highland Glen who is right now recovering from an infected toe caused by a fish hook.
His toe bone was eaten away by infection, which started higher up where his leg was pierced by a stray fish hook left behind by fishermen.
He has 10 days of a leg drain to flush out as much infection as possible. And then he’ll have antibiotic beads implanted to ensure the infection resolves completely. His vet bills so far total $686.09, for a duck someone dumped at a park like trash.
Two months ago, someone shot a dumped domestic pekin duck with an arrow at Highland Glen.
While she was lucky the arrow only pierced her wing, it broke the bone completely.
She spent a month in recovery at her foster home, which became her forever home.
Those are just a few of the dumped domestic ducks we’ve rescued from Highland Glen. The wild ducks also get sick and injured, like this mallard hen with a face abscess from a fish hook.
And this sick mallard drake with an eye injury and a leg injury.
You might think “it’s just mother nature” when these ducks get injured and die. But in the vast majority of cases, nature has nothing to do with it. It’s human negligence and carelessness. It’s completely preventable if people just stop dumping domestic pet ducks and start picking up their fishing line. That’s not mother nature. That’s just common sense and good wildlife stewardship.
“How can I help?”
You can help wild birds and the environment by encouraging people to never get ducks or other domestic birds unless they’re going to keep them for their entire life. Encourage people to rescue birds if they want them as pets. Make people aware that they can never dump domestic pets, even ducks, in the wild. And that domestic birds are a lot of work, and should never be given as gifts or pranks.
You can help the dumped domestic ducks by offering them scratch grains, cracked corn, bird seed or a flock feed. Never put feed in the water as it can contaminate the water quality. Don’t feed more than the birds can completely eat in 5 mins. Place food near the shoreline so they can get back to the safety of open water in case of off-leash dogs or other threats.
NOTE: Minimize the feed you share with wild birds. If you accidentally feed too many wild ducks it can cause overpopulation. Then they’re all at risk of being culled (killed). Several cities and private entities in Utah contract with USDA Wildlife Services to cull domestic dumped ducks each year, including here at Highland Glen. Isn’t that ironic? So many people think the ducks at Highland Glen are fine. Yet the city contracts with Wildlife Services to round them up and kill them every year.
Lastly, please don’t feed ducks bread. It lacks the nutrients they need to thrive, and it contributes to metabolic bone disease, slipped wing and impacted crop. It also hurts the water quality and contributes to algae blooms and botulism in warmer months. We all fed bread to ducks growing up. But now we know better.
Remember: Domestic ducks belong on farms and in yards with predator-proof pens. They make great pets. But they do not belong in our public parks. Here are a few success stories from Highland Glen. These are the lucky ones.
Kenny & Maude, dumped at Highland Glen, but now in a safe forever pet home.
Costello and Janis, dumped at Highland Glen, but now in their predator proof night pen.
Two pekin girls, dumped at Highland Glen, but now join their new beau Quackie Chan in a safe forever pet home.
Bobbi, dumped at Highland Glen, but now with drake Billy in a safe forever pet home.
Jeffinie, shot with an arrow at Highland Glen, rescued, recovered and safe now with other rescued ducks.
Special thanks to everyone who helps the dumped domestic ducks at Highland Glen. I’m sure there are many people I don’t know who help, but the helpers I know include Lynnel, Britta, Joanne, Kade, Shannon, the ACO who is there nearly every day and the city of Highland.
UPDATE: We held two clean-ups at Decker Lake and have paused for the winter. Stay tuned for info this spring on future clean-up efforts. We’re also hoping to work with stormwater management to ensure their 5-year plan includes budget for BOOMS to block trash before it enters Decker Lake.
County Council member Aimee Winder Newton reached out to the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Director and received this information back:
Decker Lake is a County Park. The lake and water are 100% dependent upon storm drain run-off which means the water quality is not great and it never has been. It is a retention basin, with no water flow in or out besides storm water that comes in. We don’t have a way to regulate or control the water level, basically it’s a retention and settling pond that we have dressed up with walking paths. At this point we don’t have any plans long or short to make improvements or enhancements to Decker Lake.
At this time of year, when the water gets hot, the water and mud start to grow botulism spores on the bottom of the pond which the ducks love to eat. Unfortunately the spores are deadly to the ducks. The water grows the bacteria because it isn’t a high quality body of water, meaning there isn’t a flow in and out to keep it clean and cool. It’s Mother Nature at work. We can’t and don’t control what the ducks eat, the state has jurisdiction over the wildlife and we can’t try to chase them away to eat other food items.
As the temp drops, the water cools and spores won’t grow and the ducks and birds are healthy. I know this doesn’t fix the issue for the bird advocates, but in order to “improve” the water it would be a multi-million dollar project, which is not in our plans at this time. Hope this helps, give me a call if you need more info.
We’re grateful for the information, but have a few follow up questions for Parks & Rec.
In this photo, the water level is low and migratory birds are dying. This was taken when the sick, paralyzed avocets were rescued, but died from botulism.
Five days later, the water level had been raised significantly.
In this video, taken on August 18th, water is shown flowing into Decker Lake that was turned on while I was walking by. It wasn’t flowing into the lake when I arrived, but was flowing in by the time I left.
So my open questions are:
1. What, if any, capabilities are there to control water levels at Decker Lake? What are the triggers that result in the water level rising?
2. What party is responsible for regular maintenance of garbage dumped in and around Decker Lake? How often is garbage being picked up at Decker Lake? (Note: One broken white plastic lawn chair has been on the shore and in the water since at least 2018.)
3. What party is responsible for removing dead animals from the water? Who should one call to report a dead animal in the water?
It’s possible the water quality can be improved with simple measures that don’t require a multi-million dollar investment. Can ANY maintenance of trash and dead animals happen at Decker Lake with EXISTING funding for Parks & Rec?
For a County that Claims to Value the Environment, Decker Lake Sure Doesn’t Show It
Right now, birds at Decker Lake in Salt Lake County are dying at an alarming rate. Migratory birds depend on the West Valley City lake for food as they move along their migration routes, and current poor conditions put federally-protected shore birds at unnecessary risk. Over a dozen mallards, a great blue heron, three avocets and several dumped domestic ducks have already died.
During the hot August days, our local lakes, ponds and canals naturally suffer a drop in water quality, an increase in algae blooms, and sudden outbreaks of toxic botulism. While these are natural phenomena, they are more preventable and manageable than Salt Lake County officials would have you believe. Botulism outbreaks can be minimized by removing excess sediment from lakes, increasing water flow in hot months, adding aerators to improve water oxygenation and regularly removing garbage and debris from the water.
Signage can also discourage residents from exacerbating poor water quality by throwing bread into the lake for the birds. All of these measures have recently helped Sugarhouse Park pond recover from a botulism outbreak just last August that killed nearly 100 ducks and ducklings.
Back in the early 1990s, Decker Lake grabbed the attention of local residents, who—with the help of then Senator Jake Garn—secured $1 million in federal grant money to build Decker Lake into an educational wetlands preserve. Unfortunately, it has now fallen into disrepair through neglect and mismanagement by Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation. What was once a showcase for West Valley City is now an eyesore riddled with graffiti, garbage and dead birds.
Concerned residents who contact West Valley City are told Decker Lake is the responsibility of Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation. Parks & Rec will tell you that any birds involved are the responsibility of the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality will respond and promise to test the water. But that won’t solve the problem or stop the birds from dying. For a county that claims to value the environment, Decker Lake sure doesn’t show it.
This once thriving wetland preserve has the potential to become a showcase community park again. But first and foremost, we owe it to the migrating birds and other wildlife to improve and maintain the water and ecosystem more responsibly. Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation needs to designate budget to regularly pick up the garbage, remove dead carcasses, improve water flow, increase water levels, dredge the lake sediment and more closely test and monitor the water quality—especially in warm months.
As residents and constituents of Salt Lake County, we have the power and the responsibility to ensure our past investments are properly maintained and our wildlife has safe passage on their migratory routes. Please email Salt Lake County Council member for District 3, Aimee Winder Newton, at ANewton@slco.org, and respectfully ask her to “Please prioritize the regular maintenance and improvement of Decker Lake Wetlands Preserve.” Then comment on the Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/slcoparksandrec/) about the urgency of preventing more deaths of migrating birds. You can also help increase awareness and interest by posting the link to this blog post on your own social media.
Thanks for reading. The migratory birds deserve better from us. Let’s help them out.
SL County resident
Lately, we have a new kitty who hangs out with the ducks and clucks.
We’re not sure what this girl’s name is, but she loves to chill in and around and on the aviary and watch for rodents.
She takes her job pretty seriously, and does a good job. At first, she was hesitant to stick around if I was out in the yard.
But now she doesn’t care if I’m there, and just goes about her business.
The ducks still aren’t entirely sure what to make of her, but she’s so small that she’s not a threat to them.
She’s more interested in the little birdies and any rodents that might appear.
We’re not sure of her name, but we heard from a neighbor that she recently moved here from Kansas.
She’s been doing such a good job of keeping an eye on the aviary that I decided to promote her to the position of “Minister of Rodent Eradication.”
It’s tough to keep good workers motivated, but she’s a self-starter and very driven and committed to her work.
So welcome to the neighborhood, neighbor kitty. And welcome to your people, too.
Now get back to work.
Teddy came to us in February 2014 after being surrendered to our Seattle avian veterinarian. He had a severe leg infection that had gone systemic, and he was so sick he couldn’t hold himself up. Our vet started treating him and asked if we had room to take him in.
Teddy spent over 4 months on various antibiotics to clear up his serious infection. His leg was never the same, but he recovered well enough to get around and join the rest of the flock.
Teddy had so many vet visits that he became pretty friendly and tolerant of people, and he was a really good conversationalist.
He would stick close to me in the yard while his leg healed, so no one else would pick on him.
He was also a sharp dresser and liked to impress the ladies.
Originally, Teddy was going to be a foster duck. But a suitable home didn’t come along in time, so he joined us on our journey from Seattle to Salt Lake City.
Teddy got along with most all ducks, but he was kind of a push over. We had to be careful of his bum leg, so he couldn’t be placed with all the rest of the ducks. Teddy took in one of our first Utah rescues, Chester Sugarmont.
Chester adored Teddy, and became his constant close-talker.
They were good buddies, and Chester was a great wingman, but Teddy’s leg arthritis eventually worsened and he needed a quieter spot in a smaller space.
In Teddy’s final year, he didn’t walk much at all. We made sure he could move around well enough to get to his food dish and get to shelter, and he did okay for quite a while like that.
But lately he had stopped walking entirely, and his pain became too severe to manage. It was time to say goodbye.
Teddy was a sweet, interactive, kind boy who always did his best to make new rescues feel welcome. He got along well with most everybody, and was a beloved wingman to Chester and later to Little Quack.
We are sad to see him go, but know he is now out of pain and hopefully somewhere with a new wingman, making him feel welcome.
Rest in peace, my sweet Ted head. We love you.
April 2013 – June 2017
On Monday, February 13, 2017, Joey goose passed away at the veterinarian’s office. His passing was quite a surprise and definitely caught us off guard.
On Thursday he seemed his usual self. He had fun breaking in my new rain boots by testing their nibble tolerance.
On Friday he seemed fine as well, but he didn’t eat all his dinner, so I made a point to watch him closely on Saturday. (Ignore the mating dorks in the foreground).
On Saturday, Joey got up normally with his posse of ducks and ran out of the aviary, honking as he usually does. He swam and played and nibbled at the grass, but he didn’t eat much. I brought him romaine lettuces, which he usually loves, and he just mouthed at them. So I called the vet and made an appointment for Monday morning, just in case he didn’t bounce back on his own. Then I went and bought him some of his favorite no-salt top saltine crackers. When he wouldn’t eat a saltine, I knew something was definitely wrong. He was calm and talkative, and he let me bring him into the house and set him in a playpen for the night. All day Sunday he continued to decline. I was in a panic trying to figure out what was happening. Did he eat something bad? Does he have something stuck in his crop? Is it an infection? Is his digestive system blocked? When the vet’s office opened on Monday we rushed him in. I carried him into the back office area and we set him up in a bank cage/pen on some towels so they could prep an IV. He passed away before they even got a chance to evaluate him.
It was such a SHOCK to see him decline and pass that quickly. But birds are experts at hiding their symptoms. I requested an autopsy which took place this morning, Tuesday, February 14th. While it wasn’t conclusive, it did rule out many things. Joey didn’t have a blockage of any kind. He hadn’t eaten any foreign material or metal. Joey didn’t have inflammation or signs of cancer. He didn’t show signs of a contagious disease that might affect the rest of the flock. The only clue was that his liver was small and hardened. That implies that he might have had long-term liver disease, which is unfortunately very common in domestic birds and very difficult to notice early. It’s also not very treatable, since it isn’t usually noticed early on. It just happens. Joey did spend several years at area parks before his rescue, where he was fed mostly bread. That diet could have contributed to liver problems, even though he had a good diet in his last two years. We also don’t know how old he is, but have heard he spent “many years” at an area park.
Back in October, I rushed him to the vet when he was stumbling a bit. I felt like he was really “off” then, but his blood work and exam didn’t show anything obvious, and he recovered on his own. In retrospect, it’s possible those symptoms were also liver disease. We won’t ever know for certain, but it seemed to be a natural death process over several days for him, and we ruled out an acute event like a blocked digestive tract or a wound or such.
So he’s just… gone. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. If I know a flock member is going to pass naturally, as Petunia did of old age, it is often quite peaceful. But when a kid like Joey, who I have no reason to suspect is ill, is suddenly declining, it makes me frantic. On the plus side, Joey seemed at peace and comfortable. I just didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t expect it, so it was pretty traumatic. Late Sunday night to Monday morning, I started to feel it was too late to save him. I got up at 1am and drove around, trying to rack my brain and figure out what was happening to him. It breaks my heart to see him go when I thought he’d be around for years to come. But that’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s almost 2-years to the DAY of his rescue, so we’ll try to pull it together and share his wonderful life now, instead of dwelling on his death. I’m still in shock and miss him terribly, but he deserves a proper farewell.
This is the story of Joey goose.
We first met Joey in February 2015. He had been shot along with dozens of other wild and domestic birds at a family rescue pond in Orem where he lived. Here’s a video of Joey with his buddy Lumpy after he was caught and held for rescue:
He was bonded with a Chinese goose and many people believed them to be a couple. They were known as Romeo and Juliet, or Lumpy and Penny. For years, many people thought Joey was a girl (Juliet/Penny). He was dumped at Wheeler farm years previously and Lumpy the Chinese goose became his buddy. They were mistaken for a couple because Joey LOVED to help raise other birds’ ducklings and goslings each spring. We heard conflicting reports that Joey was originally dumped at Decker Lake before being moved to Wheeler Farm. Eventually he was moved to Clegg Pond where he and so many others were shot. Here’s a news story from that time: http://www.ksl.com/?sid=33419364&nid=148
Joey had been shot six times with lead pellets. He had pellet fragments in his face, tongue, wing, chest, tail and leg.
He looked terrible when he arrived, but a few days after surgery to clean up his face and tongue and remove the pellet from his leg, he stabilized and started to improve.
The pellet removed from Joey’s leg damaged his tendon, and he had a previous broken toe injury that made it hard for him to walk.
He sat through twice-daily physical therapy for four months until he could finally walk well.
He wasn’t too friendly when he arrived, but after 240 physical therapy sessions, he couldn’t help but start to like me a bit.
I think he even started to enjoy physical therapy.
Once Joey’s leg had recovered enough for him to get around well, he quickly rose to head of the flock.
He then appointed himself as Chief Security Officer, or “Mall Cop.”
It was a job he took very seriously. His responsibilities included making sure he knew where everyone was at all times. Making sure no one went anywhere he didn’t approve of, and sometimes beak punching ducks or chickens if they misbehaved.
It was a lot of responsibility, but Joey was a natural leader.
Mall Cop ran a tight ship, and everybody knew better than to cross him.
Sometimes even the people needed a beak punch to keep her in line.
Okay, a lot of times.
But I knew Joey loved me.
Eventually he would sit with me on the hammock and let me pet his neck ruffles.
And eventually he didn’t have to beak punch me anymore to keep me in line. Maybe just a little tap now and then.
Joey would listen closely as I told him what a brave and wonderful goose he was, what a responsible and capable mall cop. I would lean in and whisper to him “I love you, big goose.”
As mentioned before, Joey loved to raise ducklings. He would protect them from the rest of the flock and keep them safe. Sometimes he even tried to keep them safe from ME, and he would get VERY ANGRY if I would take them away to put them to bed in the house pen. Joey would HONK OUT LOUDLY IN DISAPPROVAL! “THE PEOPLE HAS TAKEN MY DUCKLINGS THAT ARE RIGHTFULLY MINE AND NOT HERS!” When the next morning came and he saw his ducklings again, all would be forgiven.
In just the past year, Joey goose helped raise JJ the mallard, Steve & Eydie, Charlie girl and Libby ducks.
The only thing Joey liked as much as raising ducklings was crackers.
Lettuces are great and part of a balanced goose diet.
But the rare treat of a single cracker really made him smile.
Joey goose was not a rescue we were expecting, but he was a wonderful surprise.
Through the years, many people have loved him by many names, from Penny and Juliet to Pumpkin and now Joey.
He touched a lot of hearts with his big personality, and I know a lot of people will miss him.
He was a beautiful, sweet, bossy, silly soul and I just hate to see him go.
While it’s difficult to say goodbye, I’m also grateful to have had to chance to know Joey and care for him over the past two years.
His big personality will be so missed here at Ducks and Clucks.
Rest in peace, my boy Joey. I love you, kid.
NOTE: This is a long post, so grab a cup of tea or a martini and get comfy. Also, this post includes one or more graphic images. So read at your own risk.
A few days ago, our lovely Petunia passed away naturally and peacefully of old age. She had been living on a heating pad most days for the past year since she couldn’t regulate her body temperature well. She also had pretty bad arthritis. She couldn’t get in and out of a pool on her own, and she needed extra protection from most of the flock. Right up until her last two days though, she was chipper and active. Though we were sorry to see her go, she had a long life, well lived. So we can’t complain.
When I shared news about her death online, some people seemed shocked. This surprised me, as she was pretty much touch and go for the entire last year of her life. So I thought I’d better share a post about the next two rescues that I guessed might be most likely to have issues in the future, just so no one would be surprised if they passed on.
I shared this post about Teddy and Demetra. Both of them are pretty severely handicapped. In the post I noted that if, in the future, they became distressed and their distress outweighed the joy they had, it would be time to say goodbye. I talked a little bit about quality of life, blah blah blah and that was it.
One lady, whose profile said she was from Romania, saw the post and asked me to please consider giving sweet Teddy a lower food dish because his dish was obviously too high for him and it was important to care for him properly. I responded to her, noting that if you look closely, you can actually see a lower food dish to the very left of the photo. Teddy likes the higher food dish, but he can choose between a lower one and a higher one. She wrote back saying she can’t see well because she’s 60% blind and was just trying to help.
These are my least favorite kinds of comments: The people who view 1/30th of a second in the life of one of our rescues and decide that they alone are the sole champion and defender of what’s best for our bird. They are the magical savior who has seen 1/30th of a second out of the 84,000 seconds in a day, and they know what’s best! I MUST LISTEN TO THEM! THEY ARE ALL KNOWING! And then they start arguing and advocating for the rescue strongly. The idea that someone online, who has never met my rescues, is not an avian-certified veterinarian and who is looking at a photo I took, which represents 1/30th of a second of time… the idea that they know best is absurd. It’s actually offensive to me. And yet I am expected to respond respectfully and explain myself, explain every detail of my care of the rescue, often rehash that rescue’s entire history, until they are satisfied that I have provided appropriate care. Because they saw a photo. And they have some unsolicited advice for me.
Meanwhile, another lady on Instagram mis-read or misinterpreted the post about Teddy and Demetra, and made a bunch of assumptions that I was going to kill Demetra immediately. She posted 4 comments on the Instagram version of my post, including one that said “I have half a mind to drive cross-country and take Demetra.”
I had started answering her other comments and then I came across that one. I felt threatened by it and decided to just block her completely. She seemed unhinged. Her comments were way out of the norm and not a single other person responded to my Teddy and Demetra post in that way. Not one.
After she was blocked, she ratcheted up the crazy even more by posting this note on some closed Facebook chicken groups.
UHHHGGG! I didn’t know she had posted that note. I just started receiving odd comments on my posts. The first one I saw was one that said something like “Why don’t you give Demetra to someone who lives in a house?” I think my response was “What the f*ck do you think I live in? A shoe?”
I got a few other posts from people begging me to give Demetra to them. Or to turn her over to someone who wouldn’t kill her. This was so confusing to me in the middle of the rest of my busy day, because I had never said I would kill Demetra, and anyone who knows me knows I would never do that. I WOULD, however, humanely euthanize a bird when their level of distress outweighs their joy in life, which is what my post stated. I don’t ever make this decision lightly, in fact I’ve done more research on the topic than most people, and wrote a blog post about it which you can find here: http://ducksandclucks.com/blog/2015/07/26/euthanasia-guidelines-for-handicapped-ducks-and-quality-of-life-issues/
Any time I have ever euthanized a bird, it has been under the care of an experienced avian veterinarian. Sometimes when a severely-handicapped bird seems in decline, I take them to the vet for a quality of life evaluation, and we determine a few options to try before ever deciding to euthanize. Medications, slings, special bedding, supplements, daily physical therapy… there are a lot of options to try. The idea that I would kill Demetra because she needed some simple enrichment in her day is so stupid it’s insulting. No sh*t, ding dongs. Demetra has a lot of enrichment. I’m always trying new things with her. Lately we go for a walk around the block together. She loves looking at all the birds and we talk about the pink flamingos and plastic duck lawn ornaments we see along the way. I’ve been doing this bird rescue thing for over 13-years now. Domestic ducks, chickens, turkeys, wild mallards, pigeons… and I was a baby-bird nursery caretaker before that with a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Just because the ONE post you read didn’t completely answer your every question, doesn’t mean you can assume the worst.
It also doesn’t mean that I OWE YOU any explanation, for anything I do.
But this lady posted her false garbage on the chicken groups and all the sheeple started commenting.
This one comment really pissed me off. “She doesn’t have any chicken friends either.” That asshole knows I just had to euthanize Laverne on Monday for a sinus tumor. Thanks so much for the compassion, fellow human being.
Here are a few more of the sheeple, commenting with no first-hand knowledge, on something they know nothing about.
There are more comments just like those, but who cares, honestly? I would like to highlight this one lady though. The only one on the string of comments I could find who didn’t automatically assume I’m a Demetra-killing illiterate, inexperienced monster. Maybe the rest of the sheeple above could learn something from her. She asked questions. She wondered if she had all the information. What a concept!
Wherever you are, Lindsay. Thanks.
In the end, the blocked unhinged lady apologized, starting with “I really hate rude rescues!” Now I’m no poet, but in the future, I’d suggest you start an apology with “I am sorry.” My response was something like “Go fuck yourselves, all of you.” Her friends started harassing me, calling me a “butt-hurt snowflake” if I remember correctly. I told that guy to die in a fire. And she kept pushing her lying narrative that Demetra is somehow in imminent danger of being murdered by me, deciding that I am a sad person and she feels sorry for me.
So… that ended well.
Here’s what many people don’t know. I block an average of 3-5 people a day. The first thing I do when I wake up is almost always block someone. This is what one apparent human being sent me recently in a direct Instagram message, along with a note that said “for every duck you rescue, I kill two.”
That was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Not every day is that bad, but after I was sent that note, I hated to check those Instagram direct messages from strangers.
When I have direct Instagram messages from strangers, I don’t get any notifications. So every once in awhile I check it, just to see what’s there, hoping it isn’t some redneck sending me pictures of dead ducks. This week I found two messages that were a couple of days old. Both were people with duck questions. One of them asked a question. Then asked again. Then said something like “Since you obviously don’t care about animals, I’ll go ask someone who does!” I never received a notification that she had sent a message, but she made sure to assume I was just ignoring her and that I’m an uncaring person. I responded nicely to her and noted that I don’t get notifications, but I never heard back.
This is what social media is like for me, all day long. People expect my immediate attention because I run a rescue. I OWE them my time. For free. All day long. Immediately. What on earth could be taking me so long to respond?! Is it like I’m RUNNING A RESCUE OR SOMETHING MAYBE!?
Meanwhile – and this isn’t meant to offend any one specific person, so please don’t take it personally – but meanwhile, I get sent the same memes and duck videos and chicken photos over and over and over again. And I have to look at each one because in the messages and direct messages and texts and notes between them, there might be someone with a bird who needs help. By the way, that photo above is a goose. Not a duck.
In case it isn’t obvious, I’m going to be severely limiting my social media time for the rescue. But before you get it twisted, don’t assume I am overwhelmed. I am quite happy. I get up each morning and sing to my rescued birdies. I often take Demetra through the drive-thru latte stand with me where she gets oats and I get a soy latte. I hold Danny girl and feed her, talk to whatever other goobers are in the house and head out to the aviary. I say “Good morning, you handsome boy!” to Miles, and give a hearty hello to everyone who cares, and even those who don’t. I open the winter pen and let Joey and crew out, and rush to get them their breakfast while they run around in anticipation. Teddy lunges into my arms as I position him in front of the food and water dish, while Little Quack paces about, waiting for his turn. I laugh at their goofy antics, we chat and I make sure they’re dry and warm and fed and watered and happy. And every few hours I do it all again, until I tuck them in at night.
They bring me a lot of joy. Sharing their joy and their stories with others used to be fun too. But it’s not anymore. The world is different. And honestly, my purpose is not to run an endless stream of duck and chicken photos that brighten up your day. My purpose is to improve the lives of these birds, and to get others to view them as individuals and stop exploiting them. So to that end, here are some ways you can help:
1. Stop eating animals and animal products.
2. Don’t support the use of animals for fashion, research or entertainment.
3. Don’t breed, buy or hatch animals. Rescue them.
4. Educate people that bread is bad for ducks.
5. Educate people that for every backyard hen, a rooster died.
The birdies will thank you for it.
We’ll still be around a little bit, to help any birds that may need it, as our space and time allow. But we are done sharing our rescues with the world. We thank you for the 13+ years of sharing in their lives, and hope that you’ll use the few minutes we’ve freed up in your day to pay it forward, for the birdies.
Love and quacks,
Tiff and the rescued flock
When we moved to Utah in June 2014, we had the flock in a temporary aviary for several weeks while we closed on our house and designed the permanent aviary.
Once the house was ours, we drew up plans for a 12’x52′ (624 sq ft) chain-link aviary to be built.
The first step was setting the posts in concrete.
The aviary covering is constructed of black vinyl-coated chain link on all sides and top.
To keep critters from digging under or reaching through, hardware wire cloth lines the entire perimeter of the aviary, and extends out 18″-24″ before being buried. By extending the hardware cloth out, critters try to dig at the base of the fence, and don’t understand they’d have to back up a foot or two to dig under the buried wire.
The back of the aviary has privacy slats as well as a privacy shade cloth, which blocks wind as well.
Center posts in the aviary provide a good framework for different sections and also keep the chain link top secure.
Cinder blocks at the doorway prevent digging as well as buried hardware cloth. During the colder months, the top of the aviary is open to let in sunshine as well as snow. But in warmer months, the top is covered by several shade cloths to keep the ducks cool.
Half of the aviary is a long walk way from the front door to the back pens and winter pen.
The other half of the aviary is divided into many different compartments for different needs. Some areas house difficult personalities, others have special-needs ducks that need extra protection.
The entire aviary is about 50′ from the house, which is a zoning rule for poultry in our city.
But when we’re home, the flock gets supervised yard time outside of the aviary to roam around and doodle for bugs.
Once the main aviary was built and the flock was safely moved in, we began work on the winter pen.
The winter pen is inside our garage and takes up about 8’x14′ of area. It was built to provide extra warmth and comfort during the winter months for our special-needs ducks.
We also used it last summer to house new rescued babies who needed extra protection from the big ducks.
The winter pen connects to the inside of the aviary, so ducks can come and go in safety.
The aviary was built with a little connector area so we could connect it to the winter pen later, while keeping everything predator-proof.
The only problem with the connector between the aviary and winter pen is sometimes it gets blocked by goobers.
Each of our sections of ducks has a shelter to protect them from rain, snow and wind. Many sections have these A-frame nests, made from pre-built saw horses purchased from Home Depot. Ducks really love to have both an entrance and an exit to their nesting areas, so they can sneak out the back if something comes in the front. These nests work great for that.
We also have several dog house nests that some of the girls prefer for laying eggs.
And some cat carrier nests for smaller ducks.
Or larger nests for big kids.
Each section of ducks has nests, a baby pool and food/water dishes.
The main aviary often also has a larger, deeper pool.
But our favorite pool is the tree trunk pool. This one was a sand box made by Little Tikes. Unfortunately they don’t make them anymore.
We feed most of our flock Mazuri Waterfowl maintenance food. It is a floating food which is a great, natural way for ducks to eat. Floating the food also helps prevent it from attracting rodents.
We use rubber food dishes which are great in winter time when everything freezes. The rubber makes it easy to get the ice out and refill the bowls.
So far the aviary and winter pen have worked out really well, and have proven to be very safe and secure for the flock. We learned a lot after having separate night pens and a day aviary in Seattle, and made adjustments here to improve the design and simplify daily chores.
That’s it for now from all of us at Ducks and Clucks.
Thanks and quacks,
Tiff and the flock
Carol came to us from the Seattle Animal Shelter in April 2011. We went to pick up Fabio, a sick silkie rooster. But when we arrived at the shelter Carol was there as well, so we took her too.
At home, Carol immediately let everyone know she was a fierce wild child. A bad-ass honey badger. Carol was one of the most feral animals I’ve ever rescued. Skittish and on guard and independent.
The story was she was found wandering in North Seattle as a stray. I wouldn’t be surprised if she got kicked out of her first home though. Carol took care of #1 and beat down anyone who got in her way. She treated every meal, plant, treat or shelter as if it were a war she had to fight and win.
She fought her way to the front of every line and took over the entire chicken coop, refusing to share the expansive 5-hen perch with anyone. Honestly, she caused a lot of chaos in the flock. But it’s often the most high-maintenance pets that wiggle their way deep into our hearts. And that was certainly true of Carol.
Carol nesting dinosaur noises with Janet:
As fierce as Carol was, she eventually settled in. Her “fight all the things for survival” instinct turned into a tolerable bossy nature. Everyone learned to stay out of her way and that suited her just fine.
In the summer of 2013 I took time off of work. During that time off, I spent a lot of time with the flock. Almost every day I’d take an afternoon nap with them, and when I’d wake up, Carol and the other hens were usually perched on me. It was a very special time and the flock really learned to trust me and consider me one of their own. Spending hours each day with Carol revealed just how smart she was. She was extremely talkative and interactive.
Wake up call:
Losing Carol hen has been difficult. She was such a special, sweet girl and we became very close over the years. I was sad to lose Si, and really disappointed that after all she’d been through she didn’t get a few more years of the good life. Olivia was a sweet old hen and easier to say goodbye to because she was over 13-years-old. Olly Astro was difficult because she was fine, then I noticed she had trouble pooping and then we had to say goodbye. It happened so fast.
And that leaves Carol. Since I had tried with vets to drain the belly fluid from Si and that only bought her a few extra months (4 months I think), I decided to try spaying Carol in hopes she’d gain more years. She didn’t. She lived 9 weeks after spay surgery, which means she had pretty advanced cancer when she was spayed, but it was not easily visible at the time. Even two weeks before she passed I had her back at the vet, concerned, and they couldn’t tell anything was wrong from the outside. But I knew.
When Carol was at the vet for the final time, people kept asking me what the vet was doing. Is she getting an implant? Why a shot of Lupron and not a Deslorelin implant? Who spayed her? When did that happen? What’s happening now? NOW HOW IS SHE?! HOW IS CAROL!?!!?!?!?!? It was frankly overwhelming. I know everyone means well but it just was too much. Imagine your child is having an asthma attack and you’re in the ER and it’s not looking good and your kid is turning blue and you start getting urgent messages and posts and people you sort of know who want to hear “how’s your daughter’s breathing tube? Did they intubate her? Is she crying? At least she’s breathing. Why haven’t they tried steroids!? Have you tried tea tree oil? WHAT IS HAPPENING!? WE HAVE NEVER MET HER BUT WE’VE SEEN PHOTOS!!!”
Too. Much. Stress.
Our Facebook page is a great place 99.9% of the time. But it is not good when there’s a crisis. In the future I likely won’t share in real-time when a crisis is happening. It’s too much to deal with that has no bearing on the crisis. It’s a huge distraction that makes me want to shut everything down and never share again. And no one should take that personally. It’s just the nature of social media. I’ve learned my lesson.
That said, I sure appreciate everyone’s notes so much now that Carol is gone. Over 400 comments of condolences about my rescued chicken on Facebook and other social media. Four hundred. How amazing is that? I’m pretty certain that when I die I won’t get 400 people leaving comments. Carol was just that special.
In retrospect, and now having had quite a few chickens over the years, I asked the vet “what should I do differently with any future theoretical chickens?” He said – and by the way Carol’s specialized vet is sort of renowned for his work spaying hens and ducks – he said he has seen some success in reducing cancers by changing a hen’s diet to include 10% flax seeds. So there you go. Research shows flaxseeds help. So far just in chickens. No research on how it could help ducks yet. For anyone who has hens, add some flax seed to their diet. He also said he has seen cancers in hens even 2-years-old, so spaying Carol at 5+ years was probably too late. Olly Astro was spayed at a few years old when she had 21 stuck yolks in her system by our Seattle vets. And that was successful and bought her a few extra years. But she still only lived to be 5-6 years old. That’s unfortunately a pretty typical life span for an egg-laying breed of hen.
When our vet called back after Carol was euthanized and he was able to look more closely at her, that’s when he told me she was full of cancer. There was nothing to be done. That was both a relief to hear and also very sad for me. I had her spayed. I knew that she might not have much time. I took her to the vet two weeks before she passed. But I was somehow still in denial. I went from “hmm I should make her an appointment” on Friday to “Oh shit! She’s uncomfortable!” on Saturday to “F#$K!” right after that. And then she was gone. One day she went with me for coffee. Then we said goodbye. I just wasn’t ready.
But then, how I could never be ready to say goodbye to that sweet face?
Pet my face discovery:
For as fierce as Carol was when she first arrived, there was a vulnerable, needy sweetheart underneath all that attitude.
She was the most lovable, loving, interactive hen I’ve ever known. She was as affectionate – or more affectionate – than any cat or dog I’ve ever known.
She was a clear communicator just waiting for a human who could understand what she was saying. She was a loyal friend. A lovable kid. A trusting family member.
She was a very special personality who just happened to be in a chicken package. And I’m so very lucky to have known her.
I know many people shared in her antics, but I hold her very close to my heart, even though she’s gone. I held her in my hands every day. She wasn’t an online phenomenon to me. She was my special care bear, and there will never be another one like her. Oh little red hen, I miss you. I love you.
Rest in peace.
Note: This post deals with rescued ducks, and mostly with domesticated handicapped ducks.
In the past week, we took in a rescued wild mallard duck from another local rescue group as a “last chance” for this duck. We don’t know his whole story, but we think the public turned him over to the group about 8-weeks-ago after they suspected a car hit him. The rescue group was preparing to euthanize him this week when a caring volunteer felt he deserved another chance and contacted us.
This little duck already had the public, the rescue group and a volunteer caring about him. They all had their hearts in the right place and did their best to do right by this duck. They were planning to euthanize him but gave him one last chance with me. In my opinion, as soon as I laid hands on the duck, I sadly thought he should be euthanized too. I made him a “quality of life” vet appointment as soon as I could, and kept him comfortable until then. The vet would help make the final determination, which as you may know, was to euthanize him.
So how do we make life and death decisions and what are the guidelines? How would someone know when to decide to let a duck live and when to help him die? How do we keep objectivity and perspective when we work so closely to help rescue and rehabilitate animals? This Little Man duck really made me want to find out the answers to those questions.
Strangely there is not a lot of good information online about when to euthanize and why it might be the right time to make that decision. For licensed wildlife rehabilitators, there are good clear guidelines about how to euthanize and how long to give wildlife a chance to recover and be returned to the wild. These guidelines can be helpful but they don’t directly address the question of when to euthanize. These are called “minimum standards” and you can read more about them here: http://www.nwrawildlife.org/content/minimum-standards
Let’s talk briefly about Little Man, the rescued handicapped wild mallard. Why was it important to euthanize him rather than keep him alive? He was injured in a possible car hit that left him unable to use his legs. We also think he suffered a foot injury at that time. As a wild mallard, Little Man was wild. He was skittish and very afraid of people. He did not like to be handled or even approached. In fact, when I’d approach him, he’d flail and fling himself against the sides of his pack-and-play to try and get away. That’s one key sign that it was time to say goodbye. A duck that flails in terror of being handled is not living a quality life. If a duck has a handicap that requires handling and a duck is so fearful of handling that they fling and flail around to avoid care, it’s time to say goodbye.
That guideline alone was a key one for Little Man. Unfortunately, he also had several problems that were probably caused by his skittishness that made his life quality even worse. Little Man had a keel sore that was nearly the entire length of his keel, about 5” long. The keel is the extension of the breastbone in between the middle of the chest muscles that runs down the center of the chest in ducks. Handicapped ducks that spend all their time sitting down are prone to keel sores. Keel sores are very painful.
So for Little Man, there were many reasons to euthanize him and set him free from his broken body. He was a wild duck. He was permanently paralyzed. He could not walk. He couldn’t fly. He had a chronic keel sore. He was terrified of being handled. He used his wings to “wing-walk” but could not get around well enough to feed himself or get in and out of water or shelter. Wing-walking hurt his wing edges. He was emaciated. He had an infected foot wound that ate away the bone. All of that unfortunately adds up to a poor quality of life. While it is never easy to say goodbye, and it is very sad, it is paramount that we prevent suffering at all costs. NOTE: With wild animals, sometimes fear or terror is misinterpreted as a strong will to live, or a fight to survive. The fight or flight response is not the same as a quality life or a joy for living. Joy for living is what you need to look for, not “fight.”
Life is terminal. It may seem obvious but it isn’t talked about enough. We’re all going to die. But we don’t all have to suffer. Suffering in animal rescue must be prevented at all costs. This is the key guideline to follow. The guideline is not “preserve life at all costs” but “prevent suffering at all costs.” Obviously that doesn’t mean euthanize everyone with an injury or handicap, so let’s talk more about quality of life.
The best guidelines I’ve found for euthanizing a cat or dog are to write a list of their 5-10 favorite things to do and then note if they can still do any of them. For a dog that might be eat, go for walks, ride in the car, run off-leash, play fetch and get up on the couch. When a pet can no longer walk or play, we may be able to help them for the short term. When they can no longer eat, that’s a poor quality of life. Pay close attention to the emotion of joy in your pets. Do they take joy in their day? Do they have moments of joy that you can see? Are they engaged with the world around them?
Each handicapped duck has different needs, but here are a few “must haves” for their quality of life.
FEAR. A special-needs duck must not live in fear or terror of being handled. Because they may need help getting around or eating or swimming, they must tolerate or enjoy human interaction. You need to be able to feed, clean, move and interact with your special-needs duck without causing them undue stress or fear. Growling, panting and flailing are all signs of stress and fear. This is one of the key reasons why wildlife rescue almost always means an animal that cannot be released must be euthanized. That’s a difficult reality for some people to accept, but when you see fear and terror in a wild animal, you understand why this is the ethical standard.
BODY CONDITION. A handicapped duck must keep good body condition. Handicapped ducks can have difficulty preening, so they don’t often look as neat and tidy as healthy ducks. But they need to maintain a reasonable weight and not get too thin. They need to have clear eyes and clean nares (nose holes), even if that means you help them. If their nares are chronically clogged or their eyes are constantly draining or runny, they need more help or you need to say goodbye.
KEEL SORES. Handicapped ducks cannot have keel sores. This is critical. Keel sores are very painful. This requires weekly monitoring. A very soft substrate is required to keep duck keels healthy on special-needs ducks. Here we use wood shavings for Danny girl’s nest, about 4-6” of them, packed tightly. When a new rescue is in quarantine, we use pack-and-plays with fleece blankets and towels. If your duck develops a keel sore, treat it and fix it within days, and fix their environment to prevent it from happening again. If the keel sore cannot be resolved in days, it is time to euthanize.
WASTE. Handicapped ducks cannot sit in their own waste. A handicapped duck needs to be able to move well-enough to get themselves out of their own waste. Alternatively, they need enough help from caregivers to prevent urine burns and loss of butt feathers from urine/feces burns. A duck that has missing feathers and raw, red skin from urine or feces burns that cannot be fixed within days needs to be euthanized.
ANKLE/FOOT HEALTH. Special-needs ducks that sit a lot may get ankle/leg/foot sores. This can happen, just like a sore keel. But it needs to be fixed and their environment changed to prevent it from happening again within days.
PAIN. Pain is a tough one. A new rescue in pain should receive vet-prescribed metacam and/or pain medication until they are comfortable. Watch for fluffed feathers, sick-looking eyes and/or shaking. Those are all bad signs of pain. Chronic pain from arthritis is pretty common in older ducks. I have some gimpy rescued ducks with bad joints who limp. My advice is to consider how much joy they have in their lives. If they limp but quack, play, swim, eat, have good body condition and have joy, they’re probably fine. If they can walk but choose not to, they may be in too much pain to have a good quality of life. Soft substrate and easy access to a pool deep enough to hang their legs and float can really help. Warm housing in the winter cold can also help.
YOU. How much time do you have to devote to a handicapped duck? It is a daily commitment, day in and day out. Be realistic with yourself and your limits. Be careful not to take on too much that might result in suffering for animals. A good rule is the 80/20 capacity rule. Take on 80% of what you can handle. Leave 20% room for the unexpected. If you take on 80%, the other 20% often just shows up in emergencies, an illness, unexpected travel, money issues, etc. If you’re maxed out at 100% all the time, you’re headed for burnout. Self-care is critical to animal rescue work. So take care of yourself and know your limits.
There will come a time when you will need to euthanize your handicapped duck. With dogs and cats, I’ve heard people say “you’ll know when it’s time.” I disagree. You may not know when it’s time. It’s difficult to stay objective when you’re so close to the day-to-day life of an animal. When I find myself unsure of a duck’s quality of life, I take them to the vet for a “quality of life evaluation.” A few months ago we euthanized Lester Leroy our rescued handicapped crested Cayuga duck. In his case, I think I waited a little too long. I learned some great tips to prevent this from happening again. Even with a quality of life evaluation, many veterinarians will be hesitant to recommend euthanasia. They want to be agreeable and supportive of their clients. The trick is to call a few days after your appointment is done and ask for your written records. A vet will often put down in writing what they were reluctant to tell you in person. One of the chief complaints of veterinarians is that their clients don’t understand suffering and don’t take action to stop it. Yet they’re often bad at being clear and straightforward about discussing death themselves. Ask questions. Make them be honest. Get your records after the fact. They know suffering when they see it. Find out if they see suffering in your pet or rescue.
Do your best. I have had to euthanize quite a few rescues in my 11+ years of rescue work. Most of the time, thankfully, it has felt right and it has been as easy as a difficult situation can be. Once in a while I feel like I’ve waited too long. Once in a while I feel like I did it a few days too soon. I have been yelled at by strangers who’ve never met my rescues and I’ve been called “the Angel of Death” for my decision to euthanize a rescue. But I wholeheartedly believe that every rescue I have cared for knows that I did my very best.
These guidelines were researched by asking fellow rehabilitators and rescuers how they make these kinds of tough decisions. This blog post will probably evolve over the next week or two as other rescuers or veterinarians weigh in with their experience and expertise. I invite those with direct experience rescuing and making euthanasia decisions to contact me with additions or corrections. We’ll try to keep this post up to date because we haven’t seen anything similar to it online, and we think it’s an important topic to consider. If you’re interested in knowing what the euthanasia process is like, write me a Facebook comment or an email and we’ll cover that in a future blog post.
As rescuers, we do our best. We’ll never be perfect. Accidents happen. Sores develop. Ducks decline or get ill or injured. But we can learn and prevent the same issues from happening again. Our little feathered friends are counting on us to do our best.
Thanks and quacks,
Tiff and the flock