Domestic waterfowl struggle to survive in Wantagh's Twin Lakes Preserve


John Di Leonardo wants you to know that releasing domestic waterfowl into the wild doesn’t save them, but is instead a death sentence.

Last month, Humane Long Island, a nonprofit animal-advocacy organization, received a call that two domestic ducklings had been spotted wandering around Mill Pond in Wantagh. Di Leonardo, the group’s executive director, said that it managed to retrieve only one of the ducklings.

“I assume one died in short order, and then we were able to rescue the other one,” he said. “So we already adopted that one out to a home on Shelter Island.”

Every year, Di Leonardo said, his organization rescues hundreds of domestic waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, that are released into the wild on Long Island. He explained that these animals are not prepared to live on their own: They can’t fly, they don’t have natural camouflage and they lack the instincts necessary for survival.

Abandoned waterfowl, Di Leonardo said, are a problem particularly in the Town of Hempstead, where he and other Humane Long Island volunteers have rescued hundreds of birds in waterways, parks and preserves from Baldwin to Wantagh and Seaford.

“Unfortunately, these animals have very low survivability there,” he said. “The ones we’ve rescued there, they've been in bad shape. We’ve rescued ones with shattered wings, we rescued ones with bacterial infections, staph infections, eye infections. They cannot survive without human care.”

The spring and summer months are the worst, according to Di Leonardo, because ducks are purchased as Easter gifts or used for hatching projects in classrooms, where, after the eggs hatch, students release the ducklings into the wild. Caring for waterfowl is a long-term commitment, he said. Ducks can live up to 10 years, and geese can live as long as 50 years.

It is illegal to own waterfowl in parts of Long Island, including the Town of Hempstead, according to Di Leonardo, and state law prohibits the abandonment of animals in public areas such as parks.

Those who are caught releasing animals in the wild can be charged with a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and, potentially, jail time.

“You shouldn’t be buying these animals in the first place, especially if you live in Wantagh or any part of Hempstead township,” he said.

A week after rescuing the duckling in Mill Pond, Di Leonardo received a call from Wantagh resident Dana Weldon, who told him that eight domestic ducks had been spotted near Twin Lakes Preserve in Wantagh. Seven were rescued, but the eighth, Di Leonardo said, likely died from protecting the ducklings from a predator.

Weldon, who lives down the road from the preserve, on Ewell Place, said her neighbors were concerned about the ducks’ safety.

“There were eight, and there were some ducklings,” Weldon said, “and they were just kind of waddling up and down Old Mill Road. They were camping out on people’s lawns, mostly on the corner of my block.”

Di Leonardo said that domestic ducks that are released don’t favor wild areas, because they see their babies or other ducks killed there, and remain nearby residences, an environment they’re more familiar with, to search for food.

Weldon said that neighbors directed the ducks back into the preserve, believing they’d be safer there, but the ducks returned to the neighborhood.

Weldon said she has lived near the preserve for over 20 years, and has seen all kinds of wildlife, from raccoons and owls to mallard ducks and geese, yet did not know the wandering ducks were domestic.

“I didn’t know the difference between a regular duck and a domestic duck and a mallard,” she said. “I had no idea. I just knew that living here — and I’m assuming the community, too — that those ducks didn’t belong here.”

Di Leonardo said that domestic ducks are two to three times the size of wild ducks, such as a mallard, and are a different color, usually white, which he said is not optimal for camouflage.

Anyone who thinks they see a domestic duck in the wild, he said, can contact Humane Long Island, send a photo, and volunteers will relocate ducks to a sanctuary.

“They’re as different from your wild ducks as your house cat is from a tiger,” Di Leonardo said. “They have large bodies, small wings, no camouflage, no natural instincts, and they can’t survive out there. They’re literally sitting ducks.”

If you see a domestic duck in the wild, call Humane Long Island at (516) 592-3722. For more information or to donate, visit