Who are domestic ducks and where do they come from?
Just like our companion and farmed animals, domestic ducks were domesticated by humans thousands of years ago. Years of selective breeding have produced animals vastly different from their wild counterparts, both physiologically and psychologically, just like dogs and wolves. Bred for either egg or meat production, domestic ducks have tiny wings, large bodies and generally no camouflage. They typically cannot fly, and they can never migrate—literally sitting ducks for predators and cruel people when abandoned to the wild.
Domestic ducks are as different from wild ducks as a house cat is from a tiger.
Domestic ducks also lack the survival instincts of wild birds; many were raised in incubators and never learned even limited skills from their mother. When abandoned on ponds, they do not know how to forage for naturally occurring food and often starve to death. They are routinely attacked and killed by predators, including raccoons, foxes, snapping turtles, and cruel humans. Most die within the first few days of being dumped. If they make it until winter, they face diminishing natural food sources and frozen ponds and cannot migrate to find water. These abandoned animals often become frozen in place on the ice. Those who don’t freeze to death, die of dehydration or starvation, or are rounded up and gassed by private exterminators or USDA’s Wildlife Services.
Harry was one of nearly 100 domestic ducks Humane Long Island rescued from Baldwin Harbor between 2020 and 2021.
When we found her, Harry was suffering from a bacterial eye infection as well as wry neck, niacin deficiency, and angel wing—a trifecta of developmental disabilities. After several months of successful rehabilitation, Harry found her forever home with one of our board members in Virginia until she passed away peacefully a year later due to complications from her initial neglect.
‘Invasive’ species may spread disease, Pollute waterways, and disrupt local ecosystems.
When introduced into nature, non-native species disrupt natural ecosystems, which rely on the migratory behavior of wild ducks and geese and the natural recovery period that comes with their absence. As domestic waterfowl eat not only the roughage of plants but their entire root structure, native plants are particularly at risk from starving ducks who eat voraciously trying futilely to meet the calories they need to survive once abandoned.
Domestic waterfowl can also spread disease to native species, including HPAI, West Nile Virus, E. Coli, and Salmonella. Should these domestic ducks and geese breed with wild birds, their offspring will likely be flightless as well, further disrupting the ecosystem and exposing the young to the same dangers as their domestic parent. The National Park Service has noted that “threats from invasive species play a critical part in [the] loss of native biodiversity,” and recognizes that invasive species frequently “start out as pets.”
The curious case of Muscovy ducks
Only two species of ducks have been domesticated: the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and the Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata). Mallard varieties, include Pekins, Runners, and most domestic varieties, while Muscovys are distinguished by their red masks (called caruncles).
While domestic Muscovy ducks are generally better flyers than domestic Mallards, they similarly cannot migrate. Being native to South and Central America, they may suffer hypothermia and loss of extremities to frostbite when abandoned in the United States and Canada and are often rounded up and killed when abandoned in warmer states where they’re labeled “invasive.”