In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service passed a series of regulations to reduce the spread of feral and free-range Muscovy duck populations. As feedback regarding the regulations has trickled in, the FWS is continuing to revise the regulations and is expected to publish them for public view within the next couple of months.
The control of Muscovy ducks has been complicated for the FWS because in the U.S., the Muscovy duck is a domesticated species, says George Allen of the FWS’s Migratory Bird Management division who wrote the Muscovy duck regulations. The species occurs naturally in Mexico and the southern tip of Texas, but are raised as farm flocks or for food production throughout the U.S. Expanding feral populations, particularly in parks and residential areas of Florida and Texas, have caused hybridization with other duck species and property damage. Complaints regarding the ducks’ invasive activity prompted the March regulations.
Although the Muscovy ducks are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, placing responsibility to manage the ducks in the hands of the federal government, the new regulations set in March give these responsibilities back to state and city officials, who will be allowed to shoot and capture the ducks in order to control the feral populations.
These news regulations, however, are likely to have little effect on hobby farmers keeping Muscovy ducks.
“They can keep their flocks,” Allen says. “The regulations as written say you cannot breed them. I think the revisions will allow people to keep them as they have, with the revision of marking the ducks they produce.”
It’s likely the upcoming revisions will require farmers to tag their ducks according to FWS regulations.
Currently, the regulations set in March are not being enforced, though concern over protection of the duck and control of the feral populations is still being discussed. These issues, which include the keeping of Muscovy ducks for show, keeping Muscovy ducks for egg sale and selling live Muscovy ducks for food, will be addressed in the next round of regulations. The hunting of Muscovy ducks and Muscovy hybrids will also be examined in the revisions.
“Until it is proven that we need to be more rigorous in these regulations, I’m trying to keep them as open and as simple as I can,” Allen says. “My intent is to disallow release in the wild, while allowing people to keep them for meat, eggs and keeping around farmyards for controlling flies and the like.”
Allen says he doesn’t expect too much of a problem of Muscovy ducks being released into the wild, especially in the North where the ducks have not adapted to the cooler climate.
“Most people who keep them, keep them in the yard and bring them into the barn at night to protect them from the cold or coyotes,” he says.
While Allen says the FWS will approach the control of the Muscovy ducks as they would other invasive species, in the big picture of U.S. wildlife, Muscovy ducks are one of the least problematic exotic species.
“If you were a state agency looking to control zebra mussles or an invasive plant versus Muscovy ducks, you would likely choose one of the former,” he says.
Download the FWS’s final ruling on the Muscovy duck regulations.