If you’ve ever taken a stroll through Huntsville’s Big Spring or Brahan Spring parks, you’ve probably seen Kathi O’Kain.
O’Kain, a dedicated volunteer with the local group Waterfowl Enthusiasts at Big Spring – “Webs,” feeds the waterfowl and conducts wellness checks in these parks daily.
Founded in 2017 by Lindsey Wilmer and Holly Lutz, Webs’ mission is to coexist responsibly and proactively with the waterfowl of Big Spring Park. Webs promotes an appreciation for the birds through educating the public and establishing a bill’s-length relationship with Huntsville’s favorite resident ducks.
O’Kain admits that, at first glance, people often don’t understand the role Webs volunteers play in our community.
“I understand that, on the surface, people see a woman walking around with duck food and capturing ducks,” she said. “However, we have an agreement with Huntsville Animal Services (HAS) that we can rescue, rehabilitate and rehome park waterfowl as needed. My hope is that the more people who are educated about Webs, the fewer who will think I’m a crazy lady stealing ducks.”
Preventing injury or sickness
O’Kain’s daily interactions allow her and other volunteers to get to know the ducks so they can better assess if they’re hurt or sick. They’re also able to tell when a domestic duck has been left at the park by their owner.
At one time, it was acceptable to feed ducks and geese bread. We now know bread is problematic for waterfowl because it is not easily digestible and causes the ducks to make more of a mess than usual.
Bread and other high-carb foods can also cause a disease called “Angel Wing,” which is not as lovely as it sounds. “Angel Wing” causes a deformity in which the wing sticks out parallel to the ground and impedes flight.
Without the ability to fly, ducks can’t get away from predators or cover as much ground to find food. Webs and HAS encourage visitors to only use the food the City provides in the duck feeders.
One of the more heartbreaking, and preventable, things that happens to ducks is being attacked by dogs.
“To prevent injury from dogs, keep them on a leash, as well as away from the ducks,” O’Kain said. “We often find ducks injured that have been attacked by dogs. This requires them to be caught and medically cared for. Unfortunately, an attacked duck often ends up dead before we can rescue them.”
Remember, the park is their home. Kids, adults and dogs should only observe the ducks or feed them from a respectful distance. Don’t chase, touch or take them.
Citing Code of Alabama 1975 Title 3-5-2, HAS Director Dr. Karen Sheppard said it is unlawful to release any domestic duck, goose or other on public property.
“It’s cruel to release domestic waterfowl into any City park – they will be dead within a month,” Sheppard said. “They are going to be picked on by other ducks, eaten by predators or starve. Let’s find them a safe pet home instead of dumping them.”
If you have a domestic duck you need to adopt out, please call 256-883-3782. Webs is also very responsive to messages on their Facebook page and can help citizens.
To reduce the number of ducks that need to be rehomed, HAS encourages people to do their research before buying a duckling or gosling.
“Having a duck is a long commitment,” Sheppard said. “Domesticated waterfowl can live up to 20 years, depending on the breed. Young waterfowl are adorable, but they produce massive amounts of feces, and as they mature, they can get loud and aggressive.”
If you’ve done your research and would still like to adopt a duck, reach out to Webs or other animal rescues in the area.
Webs is currently looking for volunteers, particularly those who have time to feed the ducks one day a week. They also accept donations of new bags of dry dog, cat and unmedicated duck food. They are not currently registered as a 501(c)(3), but have started the process as the need to help the park waterfowl continues.