BY GABRIELLE GUZ
A newborn duckling swimming in the pond at Prospect Park is a picturesque sight, but according to Mary Beth Artz, it’s not always as sweet as it seems. Some of the ducks you see at parks around Brooklyn aren’t wild at all — they’ve been abandoned there with little chance of survival.
Along with a group of volunteer wildlife rescuers, Artz, a founding member of Wildlife Interests, Learning and Development, has been rescuing waterfowl dumped in parks around the city for the past six years.
Artz and other duck rescuers recently created a GoFundMe page to raise money for rescue equipment to help its efforts. Twenty-one days after Artz started the page, it’s raised $1,400 of the $2,000 goal.
The tools the group hopes to purchase are a Super Talon Animal Catcher and an E-Z Catch Remote Fire Trap. The first is essentially a net with steel grapples that contains the animals and renders escape practically impossible. The latter is a remote capture implement that can be triggered when the ducks approach the trap.
Artz and her team members, Jessica and Kaitlyn Zafonte, are also hoping to dispel preconceived notions that domestic and wild ducks, such as mallards and wood ducks, are one and the same.
“We need to help educate folks on why dumping ducks (or any domestic animal) is wrong and a death sentence — and we wait for the day to come when people understand the plight of these animals,” the group’s GoFundMe page states.
According to Artz, domestic ducks, as opposed to their wild counterparts, can fly only minimally, and they are unable to forage for the plant matter and bugs that wild birds eat.
When winter arrives, these ducks are left to endure harsh weather conditions. Stranded on frozen lakes and ponds while the wild ducks around them leave for the winter, the dumped domestic ducks become increasingly vulnerable to predators.
“We just want people to be aware of the difference between a wild duck and a domestic duck, or a chick or chicken or a rooster that should not be let go in the wild,” Artz said.
Artz recently received reports from witnesses who saw people in the process of dumping ducklings at the water in Prospect Park.
“They were only a couple weeks old … they didn’t even have their feathers in yet. They had no waterproofing. They would have drowned,” Artz said.
So far this summer, Artz and her team members have rescued eight domestic ducks from city parks. In total, this year, over 20 ducks have been rescued, she said.
Usually between five and 12 people — including rangers, civilians and the animal rights group Long Island Orchestrating for Nature — participate in the rescue efforts.
Artz and her teammates attribute the influx of ducks around the parks to school hatching projects. Rather than teaching children about the “miracle of life” through hands-on experiments, Artz says these projects lead students astray by showing them that the animals are disposable when they are no longer needed in the classroom.
That’s why Artz is supporting Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal’s bill that would ban school hatching projects.
“When [the students] see a chick or a duck that’s hatched in their classroom, they don’t really think about where it’s going, or maybe they do and no one really tells them anything,” Artz said. “Unless the teacher has a friend who has a humane farm, most likely [the duck or chick] is going to slaughter back to the vendor.”
For alternative school hatching projects, Artz suggested that students go to sanctuaries that keep the rescued ducks, or read books and watch movies pertaining to the topic.
Once domestic ducks are dumped into public areas, even something as simple as giving the animals food becomes a hurdle. The ducks are extremely wary of humans, and rescuers must establish trust with them first.
“It can get very stressful to rescue them,” Artz said. “It’s a lot of work with a lot of people, a lot of strategizing, and a lot of fingers crossed.”
To donate to the fundraiser, go to https://bit.ly/31gxFJG.