Don't feed the ducks, sign says

Memorial Unversity trying to control rats at Burton's Pond

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on December 2, 2012
Memorial University has erected signs around Burton's Pond warning people not to feed the ducks. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Memorial University is attempting to put a stop to people feeding ducks at Burton's Pond.

Signs have been put up at the pond, part of the St. John's campus.

Spokesman Dave Sorensen said the move was made to help control the rat population around the pond.

The university figures the wild ducks can fend for themselves, but the domestic ducks are not great flyers.

Burton's Pond is close to the residences and the university's daycare centre.

"As part of the university's ongoing work to reduce the number of rodents in the area, and after consulting with the university's pest control provider, Orkin, signs have been posted at the pond requesting people to refrain from feeding the ducks," Sorensen said.

"Controlling the amount of bird food leftovers around the pond was seen as a better method of discouraging rodents than altering the natural environment by the removal of grass and shrubs."

Sorensen said someone brought domestic ducks into the pond - the university is not sure when - and so MUN is hoping whoever dropped them off will come take them back. Or else it's looking for someone willing to take the domestic ducks. MUN hasn't reached out to the city yet about relocating them to a park.

Bird expert and MUN professor Bill Montevecchi said the wild ducks will be OK - the ones that may take food from people will just fly on to Quidi Vidi Lake or Bowring Park.

"I guess because the pond is so close to residences and the daycare, somebody must have seen some rats," he speculated.

He said people have been raising concerns on campus about the fate of the ducks.

Wild ducks feed on vegetation and, in some cases, small fish and crustaceans - some of the unique ducks that frequent Burton's Pond are diver ducks. Those ducks aren't tempted by the feed and breadcrumbs people bring to the pond.

But the domestic ones may have to be caught and caged to be relocated if the situation becomes desperate, Montevecchi said.

"That crowd of fat domestic ones might be bothered," he said.

"There are some really lunky ones."

He said there's also a possibility the ducks could start walking out onto roads.

But Montevecchi said it's better for the university to make the move now before winter really sets in.

He said overall, his greatest concern is that wild ducks get the protection they need. There are ducks on the pond native to Europe and the U.S. as well as Iceland and Norway.

Montevecchi noted the university has put concrete walls on part of the pond and that's a departure from nature.

"As a matter of fact, before my time, Burton's Pond, before the city was developed, was quite a nice natural pond. Now we've kind of cemented it in on both sides," he said.

He noted that ponds can get overwhelmed with domestic ducks when they are being fed.

Now that there are signs up - whether or not people will obey them - he said the situation should be watched for repercussions to the duck population, especially the domestic ones that tend to eat anything and come roaring over to humans who might have feed.

"I don't think there's a crisis," said Montevecchi, who admitted to feeding the ducks himself in the past.

"We'll have to see how it plays out."

He said trying to find a natural solution to fighting the rodent population is a good way to go. While the ducks have been there for years, it could be rodents are more noticeable given the mild weather lately, he said.

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