Every year, scientists track Australia’s native duck populations. The University of New South Wales conducts the annual Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey to monitor changes in waterbird numbers, breeding and distribution.
In 2019 scientists found that low rainfall, extreme heat and prolonged dry conditions have led to declines in native duck abundance and breeding, and the conditions of many wetlands they live in across eastern Australia.
Ducks are an important and unique part of Australia’s wildlife and environment, so what can we do to protect their welfare and the wetlands they call home?
PROTECTING DUCK WELFARE
While we want to encourage all Victorians to get out and Discover Ducks, we must keep in mind that they are wild animals. It’s important we keep our distance and respect their environment; this includes not feeding native ducks. Check out our welfare-friendly duck spotting tips here!
As urban Melbourne continues to expand, natural duck habitats will sadly be compromised. When you’re driving near waterways or wetlands remember look out for ducks on your journey. You may see signs like the one pictured warning you that there could be ducks and ducklings in the area. If you see ducks trying to cross the road, and if it is safe to do so, stop your car and let them pass.
HOW CAN I MAKE MY LOCAL AREA DUCK-FRIENDLY?
Duck species such as Wood Ducks and Pacific Black Ducks are often found in suburban areas near water, such as lakes, creeks, rivers and ponds. This means that some ducks may choose a backyard to raise their ducklings, especially those with pools. If you are lucky enough to host a family of ducks, it is best not to disturb them, chase them or try to contain them. Once the ducklings are a little older, their parents will eventually move them to a local pond or lake.
If ducks do choose your backyard as a home avoid feeding them human food such as bread – this is like junk food for ducks. Feeding wild animals such as ducks can also create food dependency.
Reducing the impacts of our pets can also help our local areas and backyards become more inviting to native ducks.
Remember to always keep your dog on lead when you’re out duck spotting or walking near wetlands. This reduces the risk of them chasing or disturbing nesting ducks. If native ducks choose your backyard as a home and you have a dog, it would be best to train your dog to avoid contact with ducks or keep them inside when ducks are nearby.
If you have a pet cat, consider transitioning your cat to an indoors-only lifestyle. Not only does this protect your cat from harm, but also helps protect native wildlife like ducks. RSPCA Victoria has some great ideas about how to transition your cat indoors and provide them with an enriching environment – check them out at safecat.org.au.
ORPHANED DUCKLINGS OR INJURED DUCKS
Sometimes ducklings can become separated from their parents. Often, Mum and Dad are not too far away so you can observe the ducklings at a distance until their parents return – this can sometimes take a few days. If after a few days you’re still concerned about the ducklings, you can contact a local wildlife carer for advice.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s (DELWP) ‘Help for Injured Wildlife Tool’ can help you locate the nearest wildlife carer in your area. Wildlife carers can advise you on what to do with orphaned ducklings while you’re waiting for them to arrive. They can also provide assistance if you find sick or injured ducks.
Healthy wetlands are essential to ensure thriving native duck populations. Low rainfall, drought and extreme heat, as well as water and waste pollution all affect the sustainability of wetland ecosystems.
Victoria is home to some very special wetlands. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for conserving the biological diversity of the world’s wetlands. Victoria is home to 12 Ramsar-listed wetlands, which support 499 of our threatened native species, including ducks.
Here are some useful tips about how you can help protect our wetlands:
- Reduce use of household chemicals such as fertilisers and insecticides – these chemicals pollute our waterways.
- Avoid single-use plastics such as coffee cups and straws. Instead, switch to sustainable alternatives that are reusable and eco-friendly.
- Never leave your rubbish behind.
- Always pick up your dog’s poo – it contributes to the pollution of waterways.
- Don’t throw your garden waste in the bush – this waste can become rampant in the natural environment, ruin habitat and create havens for foxes.
- Don’t throw water or plants from your fish tank into a waterway – many weeds in rivers and wetlands come from home aquariums. They can spread and compete with native vegetation, reducing suitable habitat and food sources for native animals like ducks.
- Minimise your household water use – the more we leave in our rivers, the more chance our wetlands have of filling up and providing ducks with a home.
- Join or begin a conservation group that cares for local wetlands. You can assist by participating in wetland restoration activities such as weed removal, clean ups, revegetation and habitat reinstatement – just make sure you have approval of the landowner or local council.
- Celebrate World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2021. This day celebrates wetlands and raises awareness about their value and importance to our environment. Consider attending an event in 2021 or hosting your own.
Did you know that some wetlands no longer naturally receive the water they need to sustain plants and animals? Water is delivered via pumps and channels to fill wetlands at the right time to support the plants and animals that live there. You can support the environmental watering program by visiting wetlands to see everything they have on offer and to Discover Ducks.