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In Hempstead Town Parks, Native Waterfowl Fight for Survival | Herald Community Newspapers

John Di Leonardo wants you to know that releasing domesticated waterfowl into the wild does not save them; in fact, it is a death sentence.

Last month, Humane Long Island, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, received a call that two chicks had been spotted wandering around Mill Pond in Wantagh. Di Leonardo, the organization’s executive director, said they were only able to save one of the chicks.

“I assume one died shortly afterward and then we were able to rescue the other one,” he said. “So we’ve already placed that one in a home on Shelter Island.”

Each year, Di Leonardo said, his organization rescues hundreds of native waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, that are released into the wild on Long Island. He explained that these animals are not prepared for independent living: They cannot fly, have no natural camouflage and lack the instincts needed to survive.

Abandoned waterfowl, Di Leonardo said, are a particular problem in the Town of Hempstead, where he and other Humane Long Island volunteers have rescued hundreds of birds in waterways, parks and nature reserves from Baldwin to Wantagh and Seaford.

“Unfortunately, these animals have a very low chance of survival there,” he said. “The ones we rescued there were in bad condition. We rescued some with shattered wings, we rescued some with bacterial infections, staph infections, eye infections. They cannot survive without human care.”

The spring and summer months are the worst, according to Di Leonardo, because ducks are bought as Easter gifts or used for hatching projects in classrooms, where students release the chicks back into the wild after they hatch. Caring for waterfowl is a long-term commitment, he said. Ducks can live up to 10 years and geese up to 50 years.

According to Di Leonardo, it is illegal to own waterfowl in parts of Long Island, including the town of Hempstead, and state law prohibits releasing animals in public areas such as parks.

Anyone caught releasing animals into the wild can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and possibly jail time.

“You shouldn’t buy these animals in the first place, especially if you live in Wantagh or anywhere else in Hempstead Township,” he said.

A week after rescuing the duckling at Mill Pond, Di Leonardo received a call from Wantagh resident Dana Weldon. She told him that eight domestic ducks had been spotted near the Twin Lakes Preserve in Wantagh. Seven were rescued, but the eighth, Di Leonardo said, likely died while protecting the ducklings from a predator.

Weldon, who lives near the nature reserve on Ewell Place, said her neighbors are concerned about the ducks’ safety.

“There were eight of them, and there were a couple of ducklings too,” Weldon said, “and they just waddled up and down Old Mill Road. They camped on people’s lawns, mostly on the corner of my block.”

Di Leonardo said released domestic ducks do not prefer the wild because they have to watch their young or other ducks being killed. They stay near residential areas to forage for food, an environment that is more familiar to them.

Weldon said neighbors redirected the ducks back to the sanctuary because they believed they would be safer there, but the ducks returned to the neighborhood.

Weldon said she has lived near the sanctuary for more than 20 years and has seen all kinds of wildlife, from raccoons and owls to mallards and geese, but she didn’t know the migratory ducks were domestic animals.

“I didn’t know the difference between a normal duck, a domestic duck and a mallard,” she said. “I had no idea. I just knew that these ducks had no business being here – or, I assume, in the community.”

Di Leonardo said that domestic ducks are two to three times the size of wild ducks, such as mallards, and are a different color, usually white, which he said is not optimal for camouflage.

Anyone who thinks they see a domestic duck in the wild can contact Humane Long Island and send a photo, and volunteers will relocate the ducks to a sanctuary, he said.

“They are as different from wild ducks as a domestic cat is from a tiger,” said Di Leonardo. “They have large bodies, small wings, no camouflage, no natural instincts and cannot survive out there. They are literally easy prey.”

If you see a domestic duck in the wild, call Humane Long Island at (516) 592-3722. For more information or to donate, visit humanelongisland.org.