What is there to fear from a handful-sized fluffy, yellow duckling? According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) those innocent little mallard ducklings often connected with Spring and Easter can pose a threat to the ecosystem of Florida if they are not kept contained to a cage or aviary.
The mallard duck has a life expectancy of 10 years. People who purchase them as cute little ducklings then tire of them as adults only to release them into the wild or allow them freedom are unwittingly contributing to the demise of the Florida mottled duck, also known as the Florida duck.
Florida law requires anyone possessing, buying or selling mallard ducks have a permit from the FWC and the ducks must be kept contained. This is due to the fact that mallards are capable of transmitting diseases and compete for food and habitat with native wildlife. Most important, however, is because domesticated mallard ducks interbreed with native Florida mottled ducks and produce a crossbred offspring. The mixed offspring are fertile so they continue to breed causing fewer purebred mottled ducks to exist in the wild each year.
Cross-breeding isn't a problem with the wild mallard ducks which migrate to the Florida each year. They leave the state to migrate north to breed before the nonmigratory Florida mottled duck's breeding season begins. Domesticated mallard ducks do not migrate, rather they stay year-round and breed in the state.
The Florida mottled duck is a unique subspecies. It is found only in peninsular Florida in both inland and coastal wetlands and maintains a small home range compared to other waterfowl species. There is an estimated population of 30,000 - 50,000 breeding birds in the wild. FWC biologists report somewhere between 7 and 12 percent of the population show genetic evidence of hybridization. These numbers may not seem alarming until the 12,000 mallard ducklings purchased statewide from commercial outlets each year (as reported by Florida State University) are considered as having the potential to contaminate the gene pool.
In time the Florida mottled duck could face the same fate as the New Zealand grey duck where nearly all grey ducks have crossbred with mallards that were released to provide hunting stock in that country. Meller's duck in Madagascar is currently an endangered species due to the introduction of mallards there, as well.
To learn more about the Florida mottled duck visit the FWC website.