Be kind to your web-footed friends, by Lewis G. Nierman
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1995:
Other than a small number of dedicated wildlife rescuers, few Floridians care about
the state’s remnant population of Muscovy ducks. Misinformation and outright propaganda
from people in positions of responsibility meanwhile foster contempt and hatred for
Muscovies, who are termed “unattractive” and thereby condemned to abuse.
Muscovy ducks were brought to Florida from Central and South America more than
a century ago, to be raised for meat. Believed to have been first domesticated, as pets, by
Peruvian natives, they were imported into England as early as 1550, spreading from there to
Holland, Flanders, and France. They appear in the paintings of these nations’ 17th century
masters. The origin of their name is either in the Muscovite company which brought them
from South America, or in the name “musco duck,” by which they are known on the
Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, where they first were found.
This history matters because Muscovies are denied the status of native wildlife.
Because they are officially alien, they are shot, poisoned, deliberately run over, have their
necks wrung, set on fire, beaten with sticks and rocks, attacked by dogs, and removed by
nuisance trappers to be sold as live food to alligator farms.
The fiercest antipathy toward Muscovies may come from residents of retirement vil-
lages, who, often discriminated against themselves, take it out on the ducks. Coming mostly
from crowded cities, they bring with them a prejudice against anything different and resent-
ment of any creature perceived as infringing upon their space. Thus they not only personally
persecute wildlife, but also lobby town governments and condominium boards to persecute
any fellow citizens who may love and encourage animals––even domestic pets. People who
care for Muscovies are confronted daily with threats that the ducks will be destroyed if anyone
“encourages” them with any sign of kindness, tolerance, or appreciation.
It is often the policy of publicly funded wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers to
euthanize sick, injured, or orphaned Muscovy ducks. Because this is not generally known,
even caring people unwittingly deliver Muscovies to their death. Among the many bird rescue
groups in Florida, only a handful such as the Rascals Orphancare Network in Fort Lauderdale
and Duck Haven in Margate make a distinguished effort to return Muscovies to the wild.
Yet Muscovy ducks are not “everywhere in great numbers, overrunning the place,”
as many charge. Their numbers are far less than those of most other Florida birds and water-
fowl. Because nearly every Muscovy in Florida lives within a mile of a populated area, peo-
ple see them a lot; but that does not make them a threat to overpopulate. Muscovies are not
dirty, and do not carry any diseases that might make them dangerous to humankind. They are
not noisy or aggressive; indeed, they are far quieter than the more popular mallards, Pekins,
and geese. They do not encroach upon the habitat of native wildlife, a favorite pretext for
their destruction. Primarily vegetarians, they eat weeds and occasional insect pests at water’s
edge. Their sins are simply that they like being near us, and they are not as pretty as other
waterfowl––for instance, the cattle egret, here just 40 to 50 years but white in color, interest-
ing in shape, usually shy of people and therefore rarely the target of human aggression despite
the frequent charge that theirs habit of laying eggs in other birds’ nests jeopardizes the survival
of the host species.
Muscovies are detested most for the red coloration around their faces, formed from
fat deposits. These soft, smooth, warm deposits, similar to a turkey’s wattles, give each
Muscovy a uniquely characteristic appearance.
The fate of this beautiful and simple duck in this small corner of the world is intri-
cately tied to the fate of every other life on earth. If we cannot find it in our hearts to protect
those among us who are gentle, trusting, needy, young, old, physically or mentally chal-
lenged or otherwise different, we do not deserve the intelligence and the resources with which
humanity is blessed.
[Wildlife rehabilitator Lewis G. Nierman is the author of Lefty’s Place and Lefty’s
World, a book and video about Muscovy ducks and other species. Both are available from
Kindness Publications, Suite 135, 1859 N. Pine Island Road, Plantation, FL 33322.]