Ducks - more than they're quacked up to be
Outta' the Woods
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Media contact: Tony Young
Well, I hope all you turkey hunters in the South
Hunting Zone took a nice bird or two this year, as your season is
coming to a close. For those of us in the rest of the state,
we still have until April 25 to bag us a good long-beard. But
after spring gobbler season, there's really not much hunting to
talk about, so I'd like to tell you about another bird - one that
needs our help.
As Easter approaches, many parents buy mallard
ducklings for their children. We've done that for
generations, but consequences have caught up with us.
These ducks can live 10 years. They might
make nice pets while they are still small enough to fit in your
hand, but when they become full-grown and the novelty wears off,
people often grow tired of caring for them and decide to turn them
loose. Most don't realize that is against the law, and these
mallards pose a serious threat to Florida's native wildlife.
Besides making it illegal to release mallards,
Florida law also requires anyone possessing, buying or selling
mallards to have a permit from the FWC, and the birds must be kept
in a cage as long as they live.
One reason for this rule is that domesticated ducks
can transmit diseases and compete with native wildlife for food and
habitat. It's actually illegal to release any animal into the
wild if it poses a disease hazard. But the most important
reason is releasing domesticated mallards into the wild threatens
the existence of the Florida mottled duck.
The Florida mottled duck, also called the Florida
duck, is a unique subspecies found only in peninsular
Florida. It keeps to a small home range in inland and coastal
To hunters, the mottled duck is a highly prized
game bird found in many ponds, lakes, rivers, marshes and canals in
Central and South Florida. They are large ducks, brownish in
color, with both sexes being darker than a mallard but slightly
lighter than a black duck.
This species is one of only a few nonmigratory
ducks in North America. The mottled duck spends its entire
life within Florida.
In the spring, wild mallards fly north to breed and
are not present when the mottled duck mating season begins.
On the other hand, store-bought mallards don't migrate and instead
become established, year-round residents of Florida. These
domesticated mallards crossbreed with mottled ducks and produce
hybrid offspring. The offspring are fertile, which compounds
the situation. Each year, there are fewer purebred mottled
ducks left, and the trend is driving the Florida mottled duck
Communities around the globe have seen similar
problems. In New Zealand, domesticated mallards, released to
provide hunting stock, have devastated the local grey duck
populations. Now, 95 percent of the grey ducks in New Zealand
The Hawaiian duck is another example. This
endangered bird has been all but completely hybridized and may be
genetically intact only on the island of Kauai.
Meller's duck in Madagascar is yet another
The fate of the Florida mottled duck could be
similar, as its population is relatively small, estimated at only
30,000-50,000 breeding birds. FWC biologists say between 7
and 12 percent of the state's mottled ducks are showing genetic
evidence of hybridization.
Floridians purchase more than 12,000 mallards a
year, and many of them make their way into nearby waters.
Given these alarming figures, plus the fact the population of
mottled ducks is small, it wouldn't take long for the Florida
mottled duck to disappear.
The solution starts with not buying your child a
mallard duck for Easter.
To go a step further, don't feed or shelter
domesticated mallards; help spread the word; and consider
requesting permits to remove any that may live on your
For more information on protecting Florida's
mottled duck or to obtain permits for removing domesticated
mallards, contact one of the FWC's waterfowl offices at
850-488-5878 or 321-726-2862, or visit MyFWC.com/Duck.