Injured Waterfowl-- What Can You Do?

Injured Waterfowl-- What Can You Do?
Injured Waterfowl: Can you help?

It’s happened to me, and it’s probably happened to anyone who has birded, even casually.

You go to a duck pond. There are hundreds of happy, healthy ducks and geese. Suddenly, your eye glances across the pond and you see--

A deformity.

A duck or goose with a broken wing, sometimes even with a compound fracture. Or even worse, a duck missing part of its beak. Or worse yet, an animal with something stuck in it, usually a piece of metal. An arrow, a hanger, a fish hook, some debris someone threw in the pond. The bird, lacking opposable thumbs, can’t extract the metal object, so it swims around, day after day, with a big, visible “thing” poking out of its feathers.

It seems that these types of injuries are common. The injured birds sometimes even get a cult following of sorts. A goose named Target swam around Prospect Park, Brooklyn, with an arrow in his neck. When it fell out in June 2010, it was news on several web sites. (Unfortunately, Target was killed less than a month later when all the geese in his park were euthanized, apparently taking the blame for the plane crash in the Hudson in early 2009.)

A few years ago, there was a swan in North Hudson Park in North Bergen, NJ who was similarly pierced. The local newspaper chose to carry a picture of the injured swan and not a picture of the firefighters who had recently been promoted in a ceremony. This led to a few angry letters to the editor from the firemen’s wives!
I don’t know if the swan ever got the help it needed. It didn’t come to the tragic end that Target did, but it may have died of its injuries. I do recall that the swan, like most injured waterfowl, was very hard to catch.

If you do see an injured duck, goose or swan, what should you do? Is there any way a civilian birder can help?

If you can catch the bird, of course, the best thing to do is bring it to a reputable wildlife rehabilitation center. If you do not know of such a place in your area, you can try your local vet. If the bird is in a park or natural area, contact the rangers or park managers. They will have resources to catch a hurt bird that most people don’t.

But if you can’t catch the waterfowl (and that is more likely than not), and the experts can’t or won’t help, what else can you do?

If the bird cannot get its own food, you can feed it. Go to an agriculture or birdseed store and ask the expert what they recommend as feed. Don’t assume that your bread crusts make a good diet for a duck, goose or swan. Also, obey local laws. It is illegal to feed ducks in some jurisdictions.

If you can, make some shelter for the bird, perhaps a small raft of reeds or grass. An injured bird needs its rest.

And last but not least, remember we are in a circle of life. A bird that can’t fly will be the first to be attacked by a predator. I will never forget how my now-deceased dog Taffy tried to attack a goose with a broken wing many years ago. My mother and I had been lamenting over the poor goose, feeling sorry for it. But not Taffy. She saw an injured goose and wanted a goose dinner! No, I’m not suggesting you sic the dog on an injured waterfowl. But if you can’t save the animal, realize that it may serve as food for a wolf, coyote or bear pretty soon. And that’s a good thing--at least for the wolf, coyote or bear!

I got an e-mail today from a couple who is feeding a sick Canada goose. The goose cannot fly and is dependent on humans for its food. Unfortunately, the man who has tended this goose for the summer will be leaving the area.

The goose lives in a lake 6 hours north of Toronto.

If you or anyone you know will be in the area of New Liskegard, Ontario, and would like to help the Canadian Canada goose, please e-mail me, and I will put you in touch with the proper persons.

Hope to hear from someone soon!

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