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Duck roundup falters; neighbors save the day

ONLY FORMER PET FOWL REMOVED
by: Morgan Dean After neighbors finally help make the roundup a success, every captured domestic duck and goose gets a health check-up before being relocated.

Despite a lot of prior publicity, the duck and goose roundup at Westmoreland Park's duck pond still came as a surprise to some neighbors, on the morning of Tuesday, September 20.

But, to readers of THE BEE, as related in an article by Merry MacKinnon in September of 2010, this event was the fulfillment of a promise made way back in 2004 - as part of a neighborhood planning process: The first step toward replacing the cement-lined pond and creek with a natural wetland, and restoring Crystal Springs Creek to its original form in the park.

About a week before the bird collection effort, Emily Roth, Natural Resources Planner for Portland Parks and Recreation, met with THE BEE at the pond.

'As part of the Westmoreland Park Master Plan,' Roth explained, 'we'll be removing the cement duck pond in 2012. The area will be restored to form the original path of Crystal Springs Creek, and provide surrounding natural wetlands. This will provide a better habitat for fish, and improved habitat for our wild ducks and geese.'

Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director with Audubon Society of Portland said the existing duck pond - and the feeding of birds human food by well-intended people - causes health problems for ducks and geese.

'Not only does it affect their health,' Sallinger contended, 'it also causes them to accumulate in unnatural numbers. What we see in this park is pretty typical for urban parks - as many as 400 ducks and geese in a very small area. They don't do very well under those circumstances.'

Sallinger pointed out the problem isn't with wild ducks and geese. 'They come and go as they please. But, about a third of the ducks and geese at this pond are domestic animals!

'These were cute little ducklings and goslings people got for their kids - but they grew up to be messy, loud, and a pain in the neck to take care of. They think the best thing to do is 'set them free' in a city park - and 'they'll be fine'. The fact is, this kind of waterfowl does very poorly on their own. Domestics were bred to be eaten, not to fly.'

In fact, it's illegal to 'dump off' any animal or bird in any Portland city park, Sallinger added.

A duck floated by with an oddly upturned wing during the conversation.

'That's called 'angel-wing'. The weight of the wing causes it to flip up and over. This condition is permanent; this bird can't fly, and will have a hard time escaping predators. It's caused by feeding it bread and other high-protein bakery goods.'

On roundup day the plan was use temporary fencing to funnel the waterfowl into a large box trap. Any native ducks and geese would be released, but domestic waterfowl would be captured, examined, and then transported to pre-selected permanent homes where they can live out their lives.

Roth concluded our advance briefing with, 'The longer-term vision is to provide a place here where native ducks and geese visit, breed, and forage in more natural numbers.'

Arrival of waterfowl roundup day

As the quiet darkness of the fall-like morning gives way to the hustle and bustle of another work day, staff and volunteers silently stand around the perimeter of the capture area. Some throw seed and food.

Again and again, the duck wranglers coax the city-wise fowl toward the fence - and hopefully, into the trap box.

But, after eating their fill, the target birds take off, quacking loudly - sounding sort of like a raucous, snide laugh - heading back into the pond, far from their potential captors reach.

Sallinger comments, 'This is typical behavior. We'll be patient.'

As the sun turns the sky from deep purple to a golden hue, neighbor Bill Courogen watches the activity.

'See that group over there, the white ones?' asked Courogen. 'They're known as African geese. For the last ten years, we've brought duck food for them. They'll eat it right out of my hand. They know my car; as soon as they hear my car, they come running right up.'

Courogen's gaggle of geese - Sallinger calls them the 'Gang of Eight' - swim aloofly, and watch the other waterfowl squabble over the food.

'One year, I think they had five youngsters,' Courogen said. 'Generally, they have not reproduced well here. Their nests are never in a sheltered area; people walk by and look at the eggs, and touch them. I'll miss them, but having an estuary here will probably help.'

After a long look, the 'Gang of Eight' come close, boss the other birds around, and then leave in a flurry of flapping wings which sends the gathered ducks and geese back to the pond again.

Kara Berglund - she lives across the street from the duck pond - spends a few minutes watching the activity before getting ready for work. 'I don't mind that they're rounding up the domestic ducks; all the native species will remain. I really don't like it that they're removing the pond, though. The pond is pretty; it's a nice feature of the park.'

At this point, it was birds 1, captors 0. Many of the reporters leave the scene, to report the day's activity an apparent failure, but the workers doggedly keep coaxing the waterfowl up into the fence. And with the media gone, the target waterfowl actually start to be safely captured for the trip to their new homes.

'What really helped was when a neighbor, Sandy, came up,' Sallinger says. 'This neighbor has looked out for the ducks through the years. Four of the neighbors walked all of the non-flighted domestic ducks and geese, including that 'Gang of eight', right into the trap.'

All ducks and geese are examined by veterinarians at the park; any native species are released.

'In total, 21 domestic ducks and 8 domestic geese were captured,' Sallinger recounted to THE BEE afterward. 'Seven of the 21 ducks were found to have significant foot problems, a common ailment of non-flighted ducks that spend much of their lives walking around on cement surfaces. A couple of the ducks also had wing deformities, a result of malnutrition associated with being fed bread. These ducks will be treated at Audubon's Wildlife Care Center until they can be transported to new homes.'

The healthy ducks and geese were placed at their new homes that afternoon, reported Sallinger.

Asked if they the mission was a success, Sallinger commented, 'All those which were needed to be captured were captured. It was a success.'

The problem that remains, he added, is humans feeding birds and animals in parks.

'Nobody comes down here with a giant bag of bread because they want or harm ducks and geese,' sighed Sallinger. 'But the fact is, they're creating overpopulation problems. And, at the same time, they're causing health problems. We want to get the word out that some of the things that we do, with the best intentions, are indeed, harmful.'

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How to stop the 'fowl problem'

• Only purchase ducks and geese if you are truly able to provide a permanent home for these animals. Understand the needs of these animals before you acquire them.

• Discourage your children's class from raising animals unless they have identified appropriate permanent homes before the project begins.

• Never abandon a domestic duck or goose in the wild - it is illegal, inhumane, and bad for the environment.

• Report any sightings of people abandoning animals in parks to the local park authority.

• Do not feed the waterfowl. Even with the best intentions, it does real harm.