Injured ducks found at Houston's Hermann Park, and no one knows why – Houston Chronicle


Hannah Weller spends time with “Webster” a Chinese goose in Hermann Park Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Houston. Injured ducks suspected of either abuse from humans or machinery at the park with shredded/damaged beaks, weak limps among other things have been reported in the park.
Some Houstonians love Hermann Park for its scenic views and green spaces. Others love it for its exercise opportunities and paddle boats.
Hannah Weller loves it for the bird-watching.
She visits regularly, up to three times a week — a hobby she picked up when the pandemic began. “I enjoy hanging out with the ducks,” she explained. 
But one outing in early March took a sad turn when she noticed a duck with a shredded beak near the park’s popular reflection pool.
Shocked and saddened, she wanted to help the distressed duck, but she didn’t have a towel or box with which to attempt to pick it up. So she snapped a few pictures and videos and posted them in a bird-watching group on Nextdoor, calling for other bird lovers to keep an eye out to see who or what might have hurt the animal.
The horrific photos she snapped prompted loads of comments from concerned avian advocates. And when Weller returned to the park the next morning, she found the duck even weaker than before.
Local Houstonian and frequent Hermann Park visitor, Hannah Weller, noticed a couple of injured ducks on two visits. Devastated, she took them to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition for treatment but they had to get euthanized. Now she’s and TWRC have been keeping a close eye on the ducks and calling on city officials to protect them to prevent reoccurrence.
Local Houstonian and frequent Hermann Park visitor, Hannah Weller, noticed a couple of injured ducks on two visits. Devastated, she took them to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition for treatment but they had to get euthanized. Now she’s and TWRC have been keeping a close eye on the ducks and calling on city officials to protect them to prevent reoccurrence.
Local Houstonian and frequent Hermann Park visitor, Hannah Weller, noticed a couple of injured ducks on two visits. Devastated, she took them to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition for treatment but they had to get euthanized. Now she’s and TWRC have been keeping a close eye on the ducks and calling on city officials to protect them to prevent reoccurrence.
Local Houstonian and frequent Hermann Park visitor, Hannah Weller, noticed a couple of injured ducks on two visits. Devastated, she took them to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition for treatment but they had to get euthanized. Now she’s and TWRC have been keeping a close eye on the ducks and calling on city officials to protect them to prevent reoccurrence.
Local Houstonian and frequent Hermann Park visitor, Hannah Weller, noticed a couple of injured ducks on two visits. Devastated, she took them to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition for treatment but they had to get euthanized. Now she’s and TWRC have been keeping a close eye on the ducks and calling on city officials to protect them to prevent reoccurrence.
“One of her eyes was blind,” she said. “Sometimes they can get a blind eye from fighting or disease, but it looked like it was moved in the socket.”
She also managed to feel the duck’s beak.
“Her beak was in sharp little pieces,” Weller said, “like she was missing chunks of her bill and parts still there were shattered-looking and disheveled, with little chunks hanging on.”
“It was odd because her body looked fine and the other (eye) was fine. But she couldn’t eat. I watched her try and she couldn’t do it.”
This time Weller was better equipped to capture the duck after watching an instructional video. She successfully scooped it up after luring it with dried mealworms, assuring the duck’s wings were tucked to prevent further injury.
Weller and her friend Greg Laco then took the duck to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition.
TWRC Executive Director Mary Warwick said her team sees plenty of injured baby ducks around this time of year that they treat and release back into the wild.
But it’s not often that they get injured adult ducks like the one Weller scooped up. “We get other bird species like hawks that run into windows and stuff like that,” Warwick said. “But I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Weeks after her initial discovery, Weller encountered another injured duck in a similarly ragged condition with a battered beak. Weller and Laco took that bird to the TWRC, too.
Later, Warwick delivered the bad news: both ducks had to be euthanized due to the severity of their beak damage. She added that an infection had started to set in around their eyes, indicating they may have lived with the injuries for a while.
It’s difficult to know exactly what happened, Warwick told the Houston Chronicle.
It’s possible the beak injuries came from something mechanical, indicating potential animal abuse, she said. Another option is that the ducks could have come down with avian flu, a highly pathogenic influenza that naturally spreads among wild aquatic birds and can infect domestic poultry.
The U.S. is in the midst of its deadliest avian flu outbreak in years. Nearly 23 million birds have died, and the flu has spread to at least 24 states in less than two months, according to NPR.
Warwick’s flu theory comes just days after the disease made its way to Texas. The United States Department of Agriculture‘s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed a case Sunday in a commercial pheasant flock (poultry) in Erath County, Texas.
But, as best as Warwick can tell, the Hermann Park ducks didn’t show conclusive signs of the disease. Still, she’s taking steps to have the birds tested for it.
If they didn’t die from a disease, is something more sinister at play?
Kelli Ondracek, a naturalist with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, said the most severe duck injuries she’s seen at the park are when the birds get tangled up in plastic or other trash.
To help monitor the 445-acre park that sees an estimated 6 million visitors a year, Ondracek said park rangers maintain a “constant presence.” Their main job is to enforce park rules, one of which forbids harming or harassing wildlife. 
Weller and Warwick identified the now-dead ducks as Muscovy ducks, which are known for their red, warty-spotted faces and black, white and brown plumage. Although they’re a sight to see and have been at Hermann Park for years, they’re considered an invasive species and don’t always make the best neighbors.
That doesn’t stop visitors from feeding them bread. “They’re a big draw to the park,” Warwick said. “People go to feed the ducks.”
The problem with doing so is that bread is generally unhealthy for ducks and can cause wing deformities. Ondracek said it can also result in a pervasive amount of feces that negatively impacts water quality.
“The main thing we can do is prevent the public from feeding them so they don’t continue to breed,” she said, adding that the parks and recreation department recently put up “no feeding” signs.
City officials advise visitors who witness duck feeding to report it to park rangers. 
Regardless of whether Muscovy ducks are a park nuisance, potential animal cruelty shouldn’t be tolerated. Warwick, Weller and Laco have arranged a meeting Wednesday with Ondracek to discuss the potential causes of the injured ducks.
“The ducks are out there for the pleasure of the Houston community,” Warwick said, “so Houston is responsible for taking care of them.
“If it happens again, maybe see what happens or talk to the maintenance crew to see if they’ve found any firecrackers in the area,” she added.
Weller and Laco have consistently returned to the park, recruiting other friends to help monitor the ducks. They haven’t yet found any others with injuries.
“I hope it stays that way,” she said.
If you spot an injured duck or other animal, the City of Houston advises you contact BARC for information on proper handling.
Monique Welch is a digital reporter for the Houston Chronicle. 
Monique reports on the trendiest news within the greater Houston region and across Texas, and occasionally contributes to the Chronicle’s race and identity newsletter, HouWeAre. A native Baltimorean and previous Tampa resident, Monique joined the Chronicle in the summer of 2021 after nearly four years at the Tampa Bay Times where she worked on all things digital, launched the newspaper’s first race and identity newsletter, Regarding Race, and covered local news. Monique holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications Media Studies from Goucher College. 

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