Residents feeding wild ducks may be creating problem in Houlton

A growing number of ducks inhabiting a pond on the North Road have become a cause for concern for the town’s animal control officer. People who have been regularly feeding the flock may not realize they may harming the birds and the local ecosystem.
Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
A growing number of ducks inhabiting a pond on the North Road have become a cause for concern for the town’s animal control officer. People who have been regularly feeding the flock may not realize they may harming the birds and the local ecosystem.
Posted Oct. 19, 2013, at 10:15 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 20, 2013, at 6:17 a.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Things are not ducky in regard to a pond located on a busy commercial section of the North Road.

According to Kevin Upton, animal control officer for Houlton, the pond located next to Shiretown Inn and Suites has a growing problem with wild ducks taking up residency. The number of people stopping to feed the ducks has exacerbated the problem, he said.

“These are wild animals,” he said. “I took some photos of the ducks and will be showing them to [Fish and Wildlife] officials in Augusta for their advice.”

Mallards and black ducks are the two prevalent species in the pond. Upton said the number of ducks has escalated in recent years from 10-15 birds to now well over 100, which is contributing to a major problem for the ecosystem of the pond.

“That pond can’t sustain that many birds,” he said. “They aren’t flying south because people are feeding them.”

Upton said several times a day, vehicles are stopping in the parking lot to feed the ducks. Most often, bread is used because its relatively inexpensive. However, feeding ducks bread is one of the worst foods a person can give to the birds as it provides no nutritional value.

“Birds are vegetarians and should not be fed bread products,” Upton said.

Because there are so many birds taking up residency in the pond, the amount of feces dropped in it by the ducks could contribute to health issues for the animals that live there, he added.

“The water is turning brown and it’s really becoming a large, outdoor septic tank,” Upton said. “The ducks are also bottom feeding in that water, and it’s just not a healthy situation. They are going to get sick.”

The birds also are no longer afraid of humans and actually come flocking to a person that pulls into the driveway of the motel. They also can be found crossing North Street to the Irving parking lot. With people feeding them, the birds are more likely to stay longer, instead of flying south for the winter.

With so many ducks in one pond, Upton said there is increased opportunity for other predators to enter the picture, as well.

“Especially if they nest, raccoons and skunks will raid those nests for the eggs,” he said.

Some of the birds in the pond are “banded,” which according to Upton signifies the bird is being tracked by wildlife professionals to get migration patterns. The aluminum band, which features a tracking number and telephone number, is wrapped around the duck’s leg and people can call in to report the animal.

“That gives wildlife officials information on flight patterns and age of the bird,” Upton said.

The information is published in various wildlife magazines and it is not uncommon for a bird tagged in Alaska to be shot in Tennessee. Upton said he recalls a goose shot in Monticello that had been banded in Greenland.

Upton said there is a difference between feeding songbirds from a feeder because those birds tend to have a much larger area they cover, while ducks that are being fed tend to stay in one particular spot.

“I understand people are trying to be nice, and they think they are being helpful,” Upton said. “But they really are not helping and are actually hurting the birds. These are wild animals. They can’t be treated as pets.”

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