MARCO ISLAND — City officials are ducking away from the allegation that any native mallards were removed from Marco’s Mackle Park.
Seasonal Island resident Marge Merklinghaus maintains that she witnessed duck hunters trapping at least three varieties of ducks, including native species, and putting them into large cages.
“They took all the ducks, even the mallards, that were there. Being that I love ducks, I’m really upset,” Merklinghaus said.
City Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie reported Tuesday that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was investigating Marco’s Parks and Recreation Department for allegedly removing mallards and other native ducks from the park.
However, FWC spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro maintained Wednesday that it’s not the case.
Ferraro said that while some mallards are federally protected, those removed by the city were hybrids and therefore are not illegal to remove.
“These are exotic ducks, they are not protected under any state laws, you do not need a permit to trap them, and once trapped, they must be euthanized humanely,” she said
City officials did not confirm if the ducks have been killed after their removal. Merklinghaus believes they were taken to a nearby preserve.
“I just want the ducks back,” she said.
City Public Information Coordinator Lisa Douglass said only exotic Muscovy ducks were removed due to their aggressive behavior toward other ducks and park-goers.
“If you’ve ever been chased by a (Muscovy) duck, you know how mean they can get,” Douglass said.
She issued a prepared statement on Wednesday regarding the brewing controversy about which ducks were being removed and why.
“Only Muscovy Ducks are being trapped – the white domestic ducks and native mallards have been retained,” she wrote in the statement.
Merklinghaus said she wasn’t pleased with the statement.
“Now, I don’t know what to do... They’re changing their story,” she said.
The city hired two licensed trappers, Dame’s Animal Arrest & Pest Control, Inc. and Chris Harlow Trapping, to capture the non-native Muscovy ducks and remove them alive from the park, Douglass reported. So far, 12 Muscovy ducks were removed, she added.
Merklinghaus, who frequents the park almost daily to visit the ducks near the lake, said she witnessed the removal of mallards and at least six Pekin ducks, including brown and white ducks and a one-eyed Pekin.
FWC officials report that Pekin ducks are also a non-native species and are legal to remove.
“The mallard with a half of a beak was taken and everyone fed him bread... This is what I’m most upset about,” Merklinghaus said.
She added that as of Wednesday there were only two white Pekin and several male Muscovy, which are the most aggressive, remaining. Without the females, she says, the fighting is getting worse.
Last year, Merklinghaus said she rescued a couple-day-old, injured Muscovy duckling from Mackle Park that was abandoned in a nest. She took the duckling to her home in New Jersey and raised it.
“I needed to get another duck to keep him company. So, I took a baby out of a mother’s nest. It sounds disgusting, but I needed something,” she said.
When returning to Marco Island she brought both ducks to Mackle Park so they could live together on the lake. Merklinghaus offered to clean up after all the ducks and help Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk in anyway she could to help with the duck population.
She felt he went behind her back when deciding to remove them without notifying her or the public.
“Maybe they just don’t like ugly ducks on the lake. It’s ridiculous” she exclaimed.
Milk didn’t return phone calls or emails from this reporter, instead the city issued a prepared statement Wednesday.
Muscovy ducks were removed for fighting with other ducks, being aggressive toward people and pets, and because of their excessive population, which caused a dramatic decrease in the population of native ducks at the park, Douglass reported.
The excessive droppings are unattractive, contaminate water and present a significant hazard to the health of humans and pets, she added.
“Non-native Muscovy ducks are often responsible for the spread of several serious diseases to native ducks, and may also interbreed with native ducks, muddying the gene pools of those species and potentially decreasing their capacity to adapt, resist disease, and persist,” she stated in the prepared release.
Parks and Recreation Department employees reported receiving numerous complaints about the aggressive behavior as well as odor and health concerns caused by duck droppings.
“Now that Canine Cove is open, these droppings also cause a risk to our canine visitors,” Douglass said.
Recent pathway improvements and ducks killed during fighting sessions causing some native ducks to flee, also contributed to the decision to remove them, she reported.
“The city’s focus is and always will be to protect the health and welfare of all park visitors while maintaining a native animal habitat and safe park environment for all visitors.
“Removal of the non-native, aggressive Muscovy ducks should allow the native duck population to return and flourish in a balanced environment,” Douglass wrote in the statement.