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PHOTO: Wilfredo Rodriguez/Flickr
I rescued four Muscovy duck today and want to release them on our community lake, which already has a number of other ducks. Will there be behavioral problems? — Ali
Ali, thank you for rescuing the ducks—that was very kind of you! I hope you find a good home for them because it’s a very bad idea to release them in a public place like your community lake. Nearly every state has laws prohibiting the release of domestic birds and animals into the wild or in public places. In California, where you live, it’s considered abandonment, a misdemeanor covered by California Penal Code, section 597s.
Domestic birds and animals that live in the wild are called feral birds and animals. In March of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced new regulations to reduce the spread of feral Muscovy duck populations. This is because Muscovy ducks originated in South America from different ancestors than wild North American ducks. When feral Muscovy ducks mate with wild ducks they create infertile hybrid offspring. When this happens on a large scale, native wild duck populations can be endangered because a bunch of hybrids compete for food sources without reproducing and contributing to the gene pool.
The new laws make it illegal to keep Muscovies in public places, like your community lake, and if found there, the ducks could be captured and destroyed. Although the regulations have been revised to some degree, it would be very unwise to release your Muscovy ducks.
Another reason wildlife specialists don’t want wild species exposed to domestic ducks is because domestic ducks sometimes introduce domestic diseases to their wild cousins with very tragic results.
Even if this were not the case, released domestic ducks are neither physically nor instinctively equipped to live in the wild. They rely on people to feed them and don’t know how to thrive on wild food sources. They make pests of themselves in public places, mobbing humans for goodies, and often endanger themselves by crossing roadways in search of people food. Even when visitors provide them with food, most people feed them bread and other items that aren’t nutritious enough to sustain good health.
Compared to wild ducks, domestic ducks have heavy bodies and weak wings. Wild ducks can fly away when danger threatens, but domestic ducks cannot, nor can they migrate in fall with their wild companions, so they suffer terribly in cold climates if they lack appropriate shelter and visitors stop bringing them food.
It would be better to find your rescued Muscovy ducks a home. Try contacting farm animal rescues in your area. Barring that, call animal control or your cooperative extension agent and ask for advice. Muscovy ducks make fine farmyard pets. Place a notice at Craigslist, offering the ducks as a pet to a home, or pin notices to bulletin boards at veterinary practices. Your ducks will be happier and safer in a happy farmyard setting than struggling to survive in the wild.