Living with Waterfowl

Waterfowl are aquatic birds including ducks, geese, swans, coots, grebes, and many other birds found in or around freshwater. Waterfowl are a common sight in urban areas, especially in urban ponds. You may even find waterfowl in your own backyard if you have a pool or a large enough water feature!

What do I do if I see waterfowl visiting my pool or water feature?

If you see waterfowl making themselves at home around your pool in the spring, you can assume that they may be attempting to build a nest. It is in your and their best interest to intervene as soon as possible.

Having waterfowl like ducks or geese, in your pool or water feature can be a nuisance and can get really messy if they decide to stick around. To keep ducks or geese out of your pool immediately attempt to scare or haze them until they fly off of your pool. Using a pool cover will help to deter them from landing. Keep any food sources away from the surrounding area as well. Under no circumstance should you feed waterfowl or any other wild animal.

Why is it bad?

  • It’s unhealthy for you—Waterfowl poop a lot! Feces create an unsanitary environment and can affect the water quality of your pool.
  • It’s unhealthy for them—Pools lack the nutrients that natural bodies of water offer, and can become a drowning hazard for young ducklings. Excessive chlorine exposure can irritate the skin and eyes of animals.

Don’t let them nest!

  • Check under shrubs frequently to look for signs of nest building.
  • Remove nests before eggs are laid—it is illegal to relocate/destroy a nest with eggs because they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Encourage them to leave

  • Keep your pool covered—long-term exposure to swimming pool chemicals or becoming trapped in an uncovered pool can be fatal to waterfowl.
  • Remove attractants—shrubs that can be used to nest under, fruits & berries from plants, and fountains to name a few.
  • Use hazing techniques—make sharp, loud noises or use commercial noise makers to scare them.
  • Don’t let them get settled. Act immediately.
Should I feed waterfowl?

Feeding ducks in local parks has been commonplace for a long time, and is often motivated by good intentions. Many people enjoy feeding wildlife as a means of connecting to them, but the effects of this seemingly generous act can do much more harm than good.

Why not?

Artificial handouts can cause long-term health problems for waterfowl, potential health risks to humans, and degradation to the habitat we share. Please enjoy them from a distance and respect their wildness. By doing so, you will offer them their best chance at survival. 

Serious health problems

An unnatural diet, such as bread and commercial poultry feeds, can make birds sick and does not contain the right nutrition or calories that they need to survive. It can also cause birds to develop “angel wing.” This irreversible wing deformity prevents or limits flight, making them more vulnerable to predators. Moldy leftovers can cause a fatal lung infection that can kill an entire flock of waterfowl. It can also pollute the water, causing nasty surface algae that can lead to fish kills.

Delayed migration

Artificial feeding encourages waterfowl to delay migration or eliminate it altogether. As temperatures rise and fall, they will struggle to survive. When left to forage on their own, waterfowl will travel where food sources are more abundant and where temperatures are more tolerable.

Overcrowding

Excess nutrients in ponds caused by unnatural numbers of waterfowl droppings can result in summer algal blooms. Where waterfowl congregate to feed, E-coli counts can swell to levels that make the water unsuitable for swimming. Many of these birds will suffer injury from the aggression and competition that occurs when wildlife become concentrated.

In the wild, the number of animals being born is often directly related to the amount of natural food available. The number of animals surviving will also depend on how much food is available. This is nature’s way of keeping a balance. When an unnatural food supply becomes available, animals may produce more young and soon there may be more animals living in the area than what the natural food sources can support.

They do like: the insects, mollusks, seeds, grains, and plants that they forage for on their own.

We can still enjoy and connect with the waterfowl we see at our local parks in other ways. Bring binoculars and a field guide and you can learn more about these magnificent animals, their behavior, and maybe even about some of the other places they’re known to frequent on their migration journey!

If you are looking for a positive way to get closer to wild animals, consider volunteering with a wildlife rehabilitator in your area.

What if I find an injured duck or goose?

Sometimes waterfowl get sick or get injured, especially if they’re being overfed. Collisions with cars and power lines are not uncommon. If you see a duck or goose that appears to be injured, observe its behavior for a few minutes, and note the exact location. If the animal is in the same location after 24 hours, please contact NDOW with your observation. NDOW staff can help determine if the bird is injured. Please do not attempt to feed or provide water to injured waterfowl – in some cases this can lead to more harm than good.

Waterfowl replace their old plumage with new feathers at least once a year during a process known as molting. This can render some birds flightless for 20 to 40 days. Waterfowl are well adapted to survive during this flightless period. 

Sometimes a nutritional deficiency from human handouts, called “angel wing,” is mistaken for a broken wing. Some geese may develop a limp, but eventually recover. If the bird you’ve found can fly or swim away, it can be extremely difficult to catch, and sometimes more stressful on the bird than the injury itself. If there is fishing line or other litter/debris caught in the wing or feet of waterfowl, an effort to remove it should be made carefully. When you are fishing or recreating at your local pond, make sure to dispose of your fishing line in a trash can or monofilament recycling container, and always pack out what you pack in.

I have a domestic duck or goose that I no longer want. Can I drop it off at my local park where it can hangout with all the other birds like it?

Pet dumping is not only illegal in the state of Nevada (per NRS 574.100), it is also extremely detrimental to the well-being and survival of these domestic animals, and on the native population of wildlife that they are forced to compete with. Your domestic animal, waterfowl or otherwise, does not have the same wildlife survival skills or digestive system as their wild counterpart. Many breeds of domestic ducks are too heavy to fly or move quickly. In a wild environment, this makes it dangerously difficult for them to evade predators like coyotes, birds of prey, or even a dog loose at the park. Their inability to migrate makes it difficult for them to survive when temperatures rise and fall, and food resources run low. The stronger immune systems of domestic ducks and geese make them more tolerant of diseases that can easily spread through the wild waterfowl population. If you can no longer take care of your domestic livestock or pet, rehome them. Visit dontletitloose.com for resources on the animal shelters, agencies, and pet stores near you.

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