(SWANSBORO, N.C.) — Make way for the ducks of Swansboro, North Carolina.
The town’s population of Muscovy ducks has “exponentially multiplied” since last year, and hundreds have taken up residence in the town’s downtown area, according to Swansboro Mayor John Davis.
The insurgency of ducks has coincided with the town’s peak tourist season and recent federal wildlife protections, pitting the demands of Mother Nature against the red tape and requirements of the town’s seasonal economy.
“People love to see the ducks, and it is part of what people are used to seeing when they come to downtown Swansboro, but the nuisance level has kind of hit a crescendo,” Davis described to ABC News.
Susan Casper, 82, who runs a local marina in town, described that her workers and customers have to deal with the repercussions of the duck population on a daily basis.
“Every morning, our docks are covered with duck [poop]…..Nobody wants duck poop on their boat,” she described.
The ducks themselves have called Swansboro home for years, according to residents.
Having to stop one’s car to allow a family of ducks to pass is a normal occurrence, and residents advise checking under one’s tires before leaving a parking spot, according to Mercedes Ryba, who works at a local boutique.
The town’s proximity to water and its ample supply of natural food sources makes it a good habitat for ducks, according to Davis. Add a steady supply of tourists who are willing to feed the friendly birds, and the small town had a duck baby boom.
“We’ve created an optimum environment for them to reproduce,” Davis said.
The town does not have reliable numbers for the total number of ducks in the town over the last few years, but the number of ducks rescued by local Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary suggests a gradual increase in the downtown area, according to the sanctuary’s rehab coordinator Courtney Cole.
The sanctuary rescued 16 ducks in 2020, 21 ducks in 2021 and 51 ducks in 2022. In 2023 alone, the sanctuary has rescued 32 ducks so far, and Cole estimates they will surpass 2022’s number of rescued ducks.
The exact cause of the increase is unclear, but Cole said warmer winters and a lack of natural predators might have contributed to the boom.
Additionally, the town now lacks much recourse to limit the population. During past spikes, the town was able to relocate the birds to nearby farms, according to Davis.
However, the migratory birds were added to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 2010, according to North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission. While North Carolina state law treats the birds akin to domestic animals rather than a protected species, the town itself is limited by the complicated framework of regulations.
Notably, the option to simply relocate the ducks is off the table according to Davis.
“I would hate to see us get in a situation where we’re having to euthanize the ducks,” Davis said.
As the town navigates the red tape of the problem, the implications of the sheer number of ducks in a crowded tourist town is unavoidable, according to residents.
A local florist in downtown Swansboro described the volume of duck poop can be unsanitary, as it is tracked into local businesses. Davis described how the situation is impacting the town’s public works department, that is regularly tasked with cleaning the remnants of ducks hit by cars.
“You have somebody that comes out first thing in the morning to grab the paper, and they have a deceased duck basically in their front yard,” Davis said.
However, Cole said the town might be able to embrace relatively simple solutions to resolve its problem. Notably, removing eggs prior to hatching and limiting feeding areas, which will not only limit the duck population, but also confine them to a more manageable area, according to Cole.
“We all love the ducks,” one local worker said, optimistic the town can quickly find a solution.
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