Ocracoke’s Ready for a De-duck-tion

Sundae Horn

Wake up and smell the guano.

Everybody loves ducks, right? We make way for ducklings, we’re kind to our fine-feathered friends, we toss them stale bread, and watch them splash in puddles. We find their awkward waddling and raucous quack-quacking to be downright charming.

Up to a point. Ducks are cute in small numbers; big flocks leave big messes behind.

Ocracoke’s harbor area, from the Anchorage Inn to Captain’s Landing, has, for the last several years, been breeding a duck dynasty of semi-tame, no-longer-migrating mallards. Officials estimate there are about 300 daffy ducks in downtown Ocracoke.

They waddle and wade and hang out and look cute and poop. They poop a lot.

Javier helps with the spraying!
Javier helps with the spraying!

On the morning of Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree, I was among the crew who met at the Community Square at the quack of dawn to set up for the day. The sight and smell we beheld was overwhelming – a parking lot polka-dotted with slick and slimy duck droppings. Ewwwww! In just a few short hours, we would be expecting the visiting public to sit in that parking lot to see sword fighting and swashbuckling. It was unthinkable. What to do?

OVFD to the rescue! Firefighter extraordinaire Sandy Yeatts arrived in the fire truck and sprayed the Square. Yay! All the poo was washed into the harbor! The show would go on! That solved the problem for one day, but the next morning, the parking lot was a minefield again. Homeowners and businesses in the vicinity have been dealing with the foul fowl infestation all year, and the flock just keeps growing.

You can’t help but think: what the duck? Can anything be done?

Well, one thing that can’t be done is you can’t shoot them. Even though they are mallards and it’s duck-hunting season, they have to be flying over open water to be fair game. Trouble is, they don’t fly anywhere. They like where they are.

Thanks, Sandy!
Thanks, Sandy!

You also can’t poison them or trap them or catch them for your dinner. Give up the dream of an island-wide Christmas duck roast. Even though they never leave the confines of Ocracoke village, they are legally considered migratory birds and are protected by the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. Thanks, Obama. 

Is it time for an “Ocraducks” organization? One option is to give them birth control – that’s right, even ducks have the Pill. It’s a daily dose of pellets that reduce their hatchability rate. You just have to feed it to them with their other food.

But feeding them is the problem.

Chris Turner is the coastal regional wildlife biologist for thirteen counties (including Hyde) at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. He’d like my article to educate people with one important message: STOP FEEDING THE DUCKS.

“Tame ducks live a charmed life with no real predators,” he said. “Ocracoke is the perfect situation for a duck – food, lots of water, nothing to bother them.”

Their numbers are likely to grow, he told me, unless we STOP FEEDING THEM. Feeding them is not cool.


I’m guilty as charged. My kids loved to feed ducks when they (the kids) were little. Quack! Quack!

“We want people to understand that feeding the ducks will affect your neighbors. Some people tolerate them, or at least they tolerate the birds next door. As soon as they move into their yard, it’s an issue. The real problem is that mallards tolerate us – they stay close to people and become a concentrated nuisance. Feeding them makes them lose their fear of people,” Chris said.

The parking lot at Captain’s Landing filled with ducks overnight recently, and when they were shooed away in the morning, they left plenty of calling cards behind. Owners Betty and George Chamberlin find duck droppings on their porch, doormats, and parking lot – a situation that Betty says “has gotten out of hand.”

“I’ve never seen it like this in my lifetime,” said Betty, who grew up on Ocracoke. “It’s everywhere and I don’t think it’s healthy. Visitors perceive it as not healthy, too – we need to get together and find a solution.” 

Chris has been getting calls from businesses about the Ocra-ducks for about two years, he said.

“They can cause a financial loss, you can lose business because people don’t want to walk in the parking lot,” he said. “Or you’re spending money cleaning up or putting up fencing.” 

There are laws that allow people to protect their property from ducks, but it requires a Federal permit because they are a protected species. Tally up your duck bills! Showing that you spent money on non-lethal attempts to control the birds will work in your favor with the Feds. Ocracoke needs to document the duck damage. 

Chris admits that putting up fencing and chasing them off your land often creates a game of “duck tennis,” as they volley back and forth, and the barriers escalate. Local business owners are looking for a longer term solution.

“The ducks were never the nuisance they are now,” said Betty. “People are feeding them, and it’s a real problem trying to clean up after them. We can’t stand guard 24 hours a day – the ducks need to be removed or euthanized.”


Wayne Garrish owns the Bluff Shoal Motel next door to Captain’s Landing. He says the ducks have shown up on his property just in the past few weeks.

“It’s been awful every night – they’re a menace and a health hazard,” he said. Wayne is training his dog to be a watchdog and chase them away.

“About 10:30 or 11 last night, I took my dog over to run them off, but they’ll come back,” he said. “I’m doing the best I can to clean up after them, but it’s like a little plague across the island.”

Wayne said he hoped the county would move quickly to address the duck situation. 

Hyde County manager Bill Rich has ducks on the front burner.

“Whatever we can do, it needs to be quick,” he said. “We need to get a permit, find homes for them, find a trapper – we’re working on it.”

Not so cute (This is a flock of 5000 in China.)
Not so cute (This is a flock of 5000 in China.)

Bill put his assistant, Will Doerfer, on the case. Will’s in touch with Chris Turner at NCWRC and with Emily Gaydos at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Greenville, NC.  She told him that a de-duck-tion (she probably didn’t call it that) would require two permits:

1. A Federal permit (which should be easy-ish to obtain)

2. A State permit (which might be trickier because the state imposes conditions based on where the ducks will go and they will probably want to keep the Ocra-ducks isolated from wild mallards)

Will is researching options to find someone who might take on the duckload. “It’s a multi-step process, and we’ll have to wait for permits,” he said.

“There’s a potential in starting a duck farm on the mainland,” Will added. “We’ve reached out to regulatory and enforcement officials about how we could do that.”

The “disposition” of the ducks (where they’ll end up) is an important part of the discussion of a “depredation” (the government term for de-duck-tion) prior to getting the permit, Chris told me. You can’t just dump them anywhere.

Showing off my mad photography skills in late-night, low-light shots... There are a hundred more ducks just ahead in the shadows beyond my headlights.
Showing off my mad photography skills in late-night, low-light shots... There are a hundred more ducks just ahead in the shadows beyond my headlights.


“The ducks have to be released onto private land. We could possibly send them to other parts of the state, but moving birds is strictly regulated,” Will said. Avian flu is a concern.

We all know that attempts have been made before to re-locate the ducks, but nobody’s naming names. One story is that some DIY locals took it upon themselves to carry a pick-up full of ducks to the north end of the island and dump them there. The punchline is that the ducks overtook them along Hwy. 12, flying back to the village faster than the guys could drive the distance!

Chris said he’s heard about people illegally moving the ducks, even running over them on purpose, but he can really only discuss the range of legal options. (Another option is getting a permit to remove eggs from the nests and destroy them, but depredation would be more effective and certainly faster.) Foul play is not on the table.

“People usually want a non-lethal solution,” he said. “I’m here to give technical guidance.” He encourages the Ocracoke community to work together to get the duck population to a tolerable level and maintain it there. He’d be happy to attend a public meeting here to help us talk about possible scenarios.

If we go to all this trouble and expense to obtain a permit to legally send the ducks to go live on a farm, what’s to stop others from moving in and making ducklings? I asked.

“Don’t feed them,” he answered.

This pirate should thank OVFD!
This pirate should thank OVFD!

In the meantime, one possible baby step would be to create an Ocracoke ordinance against feeding the ducks.

“There’s no state law about feeding wildlife on your own property,” Chris told me. “If you have a county no-feeding ordinance, it doesn’t have to have teeth. You can make it as tight as you choose to enforce.”

Another idea was from Bill Rich, who suggested that Ocracoke start an Adopt-a-Duck program. He sees it as a source of revenue for the county and a way to find good homes for some lucky ducks – killing two birds with one stone! I asked Will about this fledging program, and he told me it was Bill’s idea of a joke. I guess Bill was just ducking with me! 

Do you think it’s time for a de-duck-tion? Tell us in the comments!




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