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.
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.
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.
For more Ocracoke news, click here.