Easter season is upon us and that means cute chicks and ducklings, some given as gifts. Not long after Easter, the duck dumping at local parks and lakes begin. Domestic ducks have been bred to be around people and rely on humans to take care of them. Many of the natural instincts of these ducks are bred out or muted, so they are ineffective at foraging. Most can't fly and escape predators. Females that are dumped usually die the next breeding season. It's important for people to help these ducks as soon as they are found abandoned. Domestic ducks live short, brutal lives and often wreak havoc on wild populations by killing females and creating hybrid ducks that sometimes can't fly and forage.
One thing one should do is familiarize themselves with the individual ducks at their lake or park before attempting a rescue. Also, get to know the caretakers and staff in the area. This will help you differentiate between the newly dumped ducks and the ones that have been there a while and would not be as easy to find homes for. Ducks that have been feral (living out in the wild) for a while tend to be more nervous and less easy to handle.
Many people don't know the difference between a wild duck and a domestic ones. All wild duck species can fly. Not a single wild species is incapable of flying unless they're injured or molting. Some domestic ducks can fly, but most can't. Wild ducks tend to be less bulky and smaller than domestic ducks. Here is a list of several types of ducks. First, the most common wild ducks in San Diego will be listed, then the domestic ducks
Here is a photo of a male and female wild mallard. Most people are familiar with these types of wild ducks. Wild mallards are usually small and very capable of flying. Females are usually brown and males have green heads. During the summer, the males may look similar to the females.
Gadwalls are closely related to mallards and are about the same size. This species is brown all year around. Most gadwalls visit San Diego in the winter.
Redheads live in San Diego most of the year. Males tend to have red heads while females are entire brown. These ducks like to dive underwater for their food.
This wigeon is molting into his "eclipse" or non-breeding colors. Wigeons are mostly brown with white bellies. Males can have green heads with a white stripe on the head.
Wood ducks are small, year-round residents where the male is brightly colored and the female is brown and gray. Wood ducks nest in trees or nest boxes.
Lesser scaup don't live in San Diego in the summer months, but do live there the rest of the year. The males are black, gray and white, the females are brown. These ducks also dive for their food like the redhead.
Ruddy ducks tend to live in San Diego all year. Males are brightly colored in summer, but brown in winter. People often mistake them for ducklings. They are diving ducks.
Pekins are the most commonly dumped ducks. They are meat ducks that start out as yellow ducklings and often grow fast. They are larger than the wild ducks and can't fly or can't fly very far. They are often prone to leg and foot problems.
Welsh Harlequin, Swedish and Buff
The beige female duck on the right, called a buff, was injured from over-breeding with the males and died minutes after this photo was taken. The two males that are with her are a large breed of domestic ducks that can't fly.
Runner ducks and a Cayuga
The black duck on the right is a Cayuga and the two other ducks are Indian runners, both domestic breeds. One of the runners has a crest which is not a good gene to mix in with wild populations. Crested ducks have a low hatch rate and reduced duckling survival rates. None of these ducks can fly well.
Muscovy ducks are a large domestic duck that originated in Central and South America. In some areas, they are a nuisance and have a fast breeding rate. Not all muscovies are dumped ducks as they are often great fliers.
Domestic mallards sometimes need a trained eye to distinguish from wild mallards. Domestic mallards often are larger and poor fliers than their wild cousins. Some domestic mallards are the result of wild mallards interbreeding with other domestic breeds such as Pekins.
Some domestic mallards can look almost identical to wild mallards with a few key differences that only an expert can tell.