Most of the duck population was hiding from the wind Thursday except these outside Village Thrift.
Most of the duck population was hiding from the wind Thursday except these outside Village Thrift. Photo by C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

Hyde County has struck out in its efforts to humanely relocate the hundreds of wild mallard ducks making their home around Community Square and environs.

It’s now up to the Ocracoke community to reach a consensus on what to do—if anything—with the 200 to 300 wild mallard ducks in the village  around Community Square and along British Cemetery Road.

Will Doerfer, special assistant Hyde County manager, will call in to the April 13 Ocracoke Civic and Business Association meeting at 7 p.m. in the Community Center to seek community input as to the next step.

Male mallard. Photo by P. Vankevich
Male mallard. Photo by P. Vankevich

David Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore of which Ocracoke is a part, also will attend.

Hyde County stepped in last fall to see what it could do after several island businesses complained about the amount of feces in parking lots as well as the sheer numbers of ducks in residence.

In a recent memo, Doerfer explained that after conferring with state and federal governmental agencies, relocating 200 to 300 ducks to an inland location is not an option chiefly because wild ducks are carriers of avian influenza and bacteria and parasites that may be in their fecal matter.

“There’s no chance we’ll ever be able to do that,” he said about relocating the fowl. “We have limited options.”

However, he said that while the county took on researching what to do about too many ducks in the village, the county wants direction from the community.

“We don’t want to be the driving force,” Doerfer said. “(The solution) has to be from the community.”

Nevertheless, the county has obtained a permit, good until March 31, to trap up to 350 ducks and humanely euthanize them to either reduce the total number to a “manageable level,” or eliminate all of them.

“The county has a permit and licensed agent who can do this for a fee,” he said.

If the community does not want the flock destroyed, they can opt to either have a licensed wildlife control agent destroy eggs in nests to stem the tide of more ducks, or individuals and business owners could do this themselves after having received special training and pay a fee.

Doerfer said a federal agent, Emily Gaydos, is willing to come to the island for a one-day training in the procedure called addling or oiling of eggs.

Moreover, every nest and any birds euthanized would have to be recorded and reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Doerfer said.

Mallard family in the village. Photo by P. Vankevich
Mallard family in the village. Photo by P. Vankevich

In December, David Howard, Hyde County Health Department director, sent a memo to Hyde County Manager Bill Rich noting the potential risks to human health from wild migratory and non-migrating ducks.

“If the reported presence of migratory ducks, which are reported to no longer migrate but remain in place year-round… and are leaving great amounts of feces in public places where there is heightened risk for human exposure to and/or contact with the duck feces, then the risk for disease transmission is believed to be raised,” he wrote in the memo dated Dec. 10.

This memo and information on avian influenza can be found on the Hyde County website in the January commissioners’ agenda and packets in packet No. 2.

Howard recommended a significant reduction of the duck population “by whatever means deemed necessary and prudent for the purpose of greatly reducing the risk of disease transmission to adults, children, and especially immune-compromised individuals.”

Howard noted that of concern is the large amount of feces deposited into Silver Lake or other water catchment areas.

In the meantime, officials are admonishing residents and visitors not to feed the ducks.

If the community wants to put signs around the village to this effect, the community will have to purchase them, Doerfer said.

Elizabeth Hanrahan, the island wildlife rehabilitator, has said that feeding ducks causes them to be habituated to humans and not leave.

Hallac made the same admonishment for folks waiting for the ferry at the north end of the island feed the seagulls their leftover processed foods.

“Feeding wildlife doesn’t help anyone,” he said.

Moreover, Doerfer added that information he received said that feeding bread to ducks is bad for them.

“They are omnivores and need a varied diet, such as grasses, worms and bugs,” he said.

Doerfer and Rich have spent a number of hours in recent months researching this problem.

“It’s not an easy problem to solve,” Doefer noted.  Hence the seeking of community input.  “There is a wide spectrum of views on the island and we want to support whatever we can,” he said, “but we can’t just step in and do.”

For a link about why not to feed wild animals, click here.

Mallard ducks share the road in the village.
Mallard ducks share the road in the village. Photo by C. Leinbach

For more Ocracoke news, click here.

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  1. Why not relocate them to the nearest USFWS refuge. Euthanization is ignorant. If you had too many dingbatters would you rush to euthanize them.
    The government agencies relocate wildlife.

    • Apparently the state does not typically allow the relocation of ducks because of the risk of the moved ducks having diseases that could wipe out other birds.

  2. Duck genocide is a mite too extreme. Let’s think this thru. Perhaps it is time for Ocraducks to organize.

      • I shall. Try this for openers- NPS has spent millions, and annoyed more, in protecting the plover. Part of their rationale is “ley nature take its course.” Perhaps NPS could take over like responsibility for the ducks, including luring them onto federal property with goodies.
        Remember: “to do good is noble, to tell others to do good is noble and no trouble”.

  3. I just came to this article quite by chance. I’m not at islander but have visited many times, staying mostly at the Harbor Inn, Harbor Inn cottages, and another rental agency whose name escapes me, and frequenting most of the restaurants and stores. I recommend Ocracoke above anywhere else for people looking for a peaceful beach retreat with “things to do”. We’ve seen the ducks, yes. If I may say so, this is a problem that isn’t a problem. When done correctly, egg oiling (or addling) works extremely well, I’ve seen it work with Canada geese with a much bigger flock. And since the village is a pretty small place, it shouldn’t be too hard to locate most of the nests. Honestly, if Ocracoke opts to kill those ducks rather than opt for a very feasible humane solution, we won’t be visiting the island or recommending it any more, so I really hope that you make the right decision. I’ll go and sign the petition now…

  4. Greenbeam, you are missing the key point, namely that these ducks are not migratory, thanks to a few people who think they are doing good by feeding them. They don’t have to forage for food, so
    they stay all year and reproduce all year which has resulted in this overpopulation of inbred, diseased and worm-infested non-migratory ducks. You obviously do not have a yard that has been partially destroyed by a concentration of their feces, nor have you been awakened many times by their very loud mating ritual. I have always believed that if you love nature you leave it alone. These ducks are not natural.

  5. I love how this article keeps going back to the AI virus as a scare tactic yet there has been no reported cases in NC with this last bad outbreak. While there may be a small chance of getting sick from the duck feces it is no greater risk than any other. And as long as you clean your shoes and wash your hands you will greatly reduce if not eliminate it. I am okay with the depopulation by removing the eggs which will cause a slow decease in numbers over time. I feel the the elimination of a creature because you now deem it as dirty and a nuisance is an unjustified extreme measure.

  6. Byron Miller, those ducks have been on that island long before humans were. Please supply the dates, names, modes of infection, bacteria involved, length of illness and how it was treated, along with numbers of infected persons, and casualties, caused by infection from duck feces.

  7. The ducks need to be euthanized to lessen the risk of human infection and to get rid of the mess that they make. If individuals are so in love with them then they need to pen them up in their yard and be responsible for the mess they make.

    • what risk of human infection?? scare tactic; those birds have been there are long as humans have (actually longer). What epidemics broke out on Ocracoke Island due to the ducks? Dates, please, and type of bacteria, number of victims, etc. etc. What BS. That island was a breeding ground long before humans step foot on it. You don’t want wildlife? Move back to Baltimore City. You can’t legally pen them up because they are wild native migratory species protected by Federal law. So think about that before you decide to “euthanize” them. You had damn well better be protected by your application for waiver to the Federal status protecting them.

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