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New Rules for Muscovy Ducks

Federal protection may not be all it's quacked up to be

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Although everyone thinks them cute as ducklings, adult muscovies are often abandoned at local ponds. Mary Brammall


The United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) issued regulations effective March 31, 2010, that impact all muscovy ducks—wild, owned, and feral—in the US.

Muscovy ducks are now protected birds under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But federal protection doesn’t necessarily mean all you expect.

Federal protection

On the same day they gained federal protection, muscovies became subject to a USFWS Control Order. Wildlife agencies and property owners are allowed to “control” free-ranging muscovy ducks anywhere except three Texas counties (where they are considered naturally occurring). Control can mean treating eggs so they don’t hatch (addling) or killing ducks. Relocating ducks is not allowed.

The USFWS Control Order does not allow cruelty—this remains illegal under state and local laws. And, any harm to ducks, their eggs, and even their nests that is not consistent with the Control Order is now a federal offence.

A major goal of the new regulations is to prevent more ducks from becoming feral. So, no one may release muscovies to the wild, including to the urban wilds of local ponds and parks.

The new regulations also ban owning and transferring ownership of muscovies, except for use in food production. But after hearing from The HSUS, waterfowl rescuers, and pet duck owners, USFWS will not implement those bans at this time. Expect revisions to those parts of the regulations in the near future.

Impacts on feral ducks

Up till now, muscovy ducks were not regulated. So, people controlled free-ranging ducks without any federal say so. Some of this control was relocation but some was killing. Now that ducks can no longer be relocated, many more property owners and community may consider killing ducks.

Wildlife rehabilitators re-home some muscovies with private owners. Federally licensed migratory bird rehabilitators may continue to care for sick, injured, or orphaned ducks as long as they do not release them to the wild.

Waterfowl rescuers have been actively helping communities by removing feral ducks and placing them with private owners. Since the bans on owning and transferring muscovies will not be implemented at this time, rescues can continue as long as ducks are not released to the wild. 

Impacts on pet ducks

USFWS’ goal is to stop feral populations at their source—abandonment by owners. But the bans on owning and selling ducks, which USFWS is not implement at this time, went much further and effectively outlawed pet ownership of muscovy ducks. The only exceptions were pet ducks owned when the regulations took effect.

The HSUS views this as unnecessarily harsh. And USFWS plans to address this in the revisions. They haven’t worked out the details but expect pet ownership will be allowed, but regulated.

How can we help muscovy ducks

The most important way to help muscovy ducks is to stop feral populations at their source—abandonment. It’s essential that owners understand ducks should never be abandoned.

We also need to end practices that encourage quick abandonment. Spring sales of cute ducklings at feed stores, fair give-aways, and schoolroom and 4H hatching projects all may have contributed to no-longer-cute adult ducks dropped off at local ponds.

These practices won’t be allowed by the new regulations. But enforcement will only come when people see these practices and complain. So, complain!

The HSUS is actively advocating for humane addling to control muscovies in Florida communities instead of killing. If muscovy ducks are a concern in your community, contact local decision-makers and ask that they addle or use contraception instead of killing muscovies.

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