For the Birds Radio Program: Baby Ducks for sale

Original Air Date: Feb. 17, 1997

Buying baby ducks for Easter is almost always a very bad thing. (Date is certain)

Audio missing


I just got an email from a woman in the Twin Cities who is concerned about a local farm implement store that sells baby Mallard ducklings every year at Easter. She noted that “They sell for $1.98—cheaper than a Kooshball!”

The store owners tell people that these baby ducks will be adults, ready to live on their own at 5-6 weeks, and that if you get tired of your baby duck before then, you can leave it at any local farm for other ducks to adopt. They also tell buyers that if you do keep a duckling through the summer, it will migrate in the fall and return to your house come spring, probably even building a nest and producing new baby ducks right in your own backyard.

Doesn’t that sound like a lovely idea? Problem is, it doesn’t really work out that way. Baby ducks don’t learn their species identities through some inborn knowledge—rather, they imprint on the first thing they see, which in these ducklings’ case is a human. Farmers raise their ducklings with other ducks from the start, so their ducks act pretty much normal. It’s fine for non-farmers to raise a duckling if they don’t mind it growing into an actual duck who will follow them around and try to mate with their shoes, but it’s a cruel disservice to release home-raised ducklings to the wild to fend for themselves. In nature, as mother ducks lead their babies around, they teach them about appropriate foods, signs of danger, and other lessons critical to a wild duck’s survival. Mother ducks have their wings full with raising their own babies, and would never consider taking in a foster child, just as an imprinted baby duck won’t recognize a real mother duck as an appropriate mother anyway. My correspondent, who has watched abandoned ducklings in previous years, wrote:

When the people dump the chicks, the chicks keep running after them as they attempt to flee. Of course, the chicks’ instinct is to stay near their adoptive mom for protection and warmth. The moment of abandonment is especially hard to watch. And the following two months are so tough on the chicks. All the ducks in the lake terrorize the orphans. No one, not even the other chicks, will accept them. They spend two months making their distress call, especially at night, and run out of the water whenever they see a human or even a dog [probably hoping that at long last they will be rescued].

Cruelty is obviously a factor in this issue, but other issues compound the problems. These baby ducks can carry diseases that they can spread to the wild population. Imprinted Mallard drakes seldom mate normally at all, but wild males will mate with anything that can’t avoid them, so imprinted females often do lay fertile eggs, and the genetic defects in inbred domestic birds can ultimately weaken the wild population.

Anyway, the woman who emailed me offered to pay the store whatever they would have made selling ducklings this year, but the store owners refused, saying they sell the chicks not for profit but because their customers really want them. Now she’s trying to pressure them into stopping this cruel practice. She lives in the Twin Cities, outside our listening area, but her problem can also happen here, if people succumb to the temptation to buy a baby duck or two for Easter Only raise a duckling if you really can ensure it a quality existence as a duck, too.