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Duck tales: Expert advice on discouraging unwelcome visiting waterfowl


Courtesy of Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA 
Three ducklings pulled from Fred and JoAnn Pfost’s Los Altos pool swim with other orphans at the Peninsula Humane Society.

Fred and JoAnn Pfost’s Los Altos swimming pool has attracted ducks for decades, but it wasn’t until earlier this month that the couple discovered their first duckling residents – nine in total plus their mallard mother. The recent arrival of new Pfost family member Katy, a 16-week-old Boston terrier, made relocating the pool party a priority.

“Our puppy would just think they were wind-up toys,” JoAnn Pfost said.

Palo Alto Animal Services (PAAS), the contract provider of animal control services for Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, is the organization locals summon to collect stray dogs and cats. Many people don’t realize, however, that 60-70 percent of PAAS calls for service involve orphaned, diseased, sick or dead wildlife, according to Cody Macartney, PAAS interim superintendent.

Errant ducks are a common calamity – particularly this time of year, “baby season,” he said.

Calls from concerned motorists repeatedly dispatched Macartney to West Bayshore Road two weeks ago. On two separate occasions, duck mothers were attempting to lead their babies toward the Baylands – on the other side of Highway 101. Macartney provided a lift.

“They were trying to cross the highway, and that obviously wouldn’t have ended well for the ducklings,” he said.

Another common scenario PAAS officers encounter involves ducklings that follow their mothers across sewer grates. A frantically pacing mother duck is a telltale sign of what transpired, Macartney said.

“The mom goes over fine, but the babies fall in,” he said.

Safeguards for humans and wildlife

While tackling roadside rescue missions is best left to the experts, there are steps members of the public can take to discourage wildlife from situations that are both dangerous to animals and humans. Animals in swimming pools, for example, are exposed to chlorine that can prove harmful to those that ingest the water. And officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that even well-chlorinated pools may not kill all of the germs present in duck feces.

Wildlife care technicians at the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in Burlingame recommend removing attractants that can make backyards inviting nesting sites: covering pools when they’re not in use and securing potential food sources such as pet kibble, garbage and compost.

The Humane Society of the United States suggests erecting fences around pools and offering safe alternatives like nearby freshwater ponds instead.

Mother ducks are notoriously nervous, so any relocation attempts should be undertaken with great care, according to Buffy Martin Tarbox, Peninsula Humane Society communications manager. Spraying ducks with a garden hose, as some internet sources suggest, is highly discouraged.

“That’s when you inadvertently end up scaring the mother away and you’re left with abandoned ducklings,” Tarbox said.

Unfortunately, a frightened mother duck complicated the Pfost rescue operation. During the May 10 effort, a PAAS animal control officer caught the mother and placed her in a kennel, but her offspring scattered and hid among the thick ivy bordering the swimming pool. When attempts to lure the ducklings to their mother proved unsuccessful, the officer was forced to release her, and she flew off. Three ducklings returned to the pool the following day and were captured, but their mother and six siblings remain MIA.

After a short stay at PAAS, the three Pfost ducklings arrived at the Humane Society’s Center for Compassion, which features rooftop ponds protected from predators by netting. They temporarily joined an enclosure featuring stray ducklings collected from across Silicon Valley but will soon transfer to the Rancho Esquon wildlife sanctuary in Chico.

The Pfosts harbor conflicting desires for the ducklings’ future.

“Hopefully these three will grow up to be ducks, and they won’t come back to their original pool,” JoAnn Pfost said.

Her husband, however, enjoyed watching their visitors dive and scuttle underwater.

“They were a lot of fun, and I hope they come back next year,” he said.

To ask questions and report concerns about sick, injured, orphaned and dead wildlife in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, call Palo Alto Animal Services at 496-5971 during the hours of 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. After-hours and Sundays, call the 24-hour Palo Alto Police Department animal control dispatch at 329-2413. Mountain View residents should contact Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority at (408) 764-0344 or the Mountain View Police Department at 903-6395.

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