Life as a duck in Huntsville’s Big Spring Park

single-meta-cal April 21, 2017

Not a bad life, you have to figure.

Nice big pool to splash around in, surrounded by lots of friends and family, good weather and endless adoration. You get to play in what Mayor Tommy Battle calls “the living room of Huntsville.”

That’s the life of a duck at Big Spring Park.

Just how much they’re celebrating Wednesday’s official grand re-opening, after the vast improvements to the park is anyone’s guess. Truth be told, they seemed to take it nonchalantly.

Certainly, they’ll have to share their fowl territory with a lot more company, what with the better weather, longer days and, most immediately, the annual Panoply Arts Festival.

Let’s be honest. The fine folks of Huntsville love the ducks of Big Spring Park. REALLY love them. Heck, there even good for tourism. The Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau created a scavenger hunt named after them.

To assure that continued good life for the feathered residents of Big Spring Park, it’s up to their visitors to treat them kindly.

That starts with a simple plea:

Don’t feed the ducks.

At least, don’t feed them bread crumbs or popcorn or pizza crusts or crackers. That’s unhealthy, especially for ducklings. As Karen Sheppard, the Director of Animal Services for the City of Huntsville, notes, “It’s like feeding your kids a giant fast food burger.”

And – how to be delicate here? — it can wreak havoc on digestive systems, leading to more, well, hazards for park visitors to dodge and to greater pollution of the ponds they share with a variety of fish.

For those determined to feed the ducks, many small, unobtrusive vending machines have been strategically planted throughout the park that will dispense, for just a quarter, a handful of healthy food.

Sheppard recalls that a generation or two ago, it was quite acceptable to feed wildlife, recalling a time where visitors could feed bears in national parks.

“You don’t do that anymore,” Sheppard says. “A lot of parks have gone to ‘no-feeding’ rules. We should observe the animals acting  naturally.”

Having them going around begging for food might be cute, but it’s also unnatural.

“We have more understanding of urban wildlife,” she continues. “What it needs from us is to be hands-off and respect it.”

There are two local women who are both hands-on – and respectful.

Lindsey Wilmer and Holly Lutz worked this past winter to keep ducklings at Big Spring Park from freezing. They took three baby ducklings who were showing signs of illness to warmer quarters.

“They are wonderful people and truly love the ducks and geese at Big Spring,” Sheppard says.

Wilmer and Lutz have started a Facebook page, Waterfowl Enthusiasts at Big Spring (WEBS). You can often find them in the park on weekends, walking around and talking with visitors, passing out small bags of appropriate food.

“They’re just so happy and they love life so much,” Wilmer says of the ducks.

They also keep an eye out for ducks that don’t belong. Big Spring Park should not be a depository for unwanted Easter ducks that have outgrown cages at home. Domesticated ducks do not assimilate well with the rest of the urban wildlife nor do they handle temperature extremes as effectively. People who find themselves with domestic ducks they can’t manage should contact Huntsville Animal Services or message Wilmer and Lutz through their Facebook page.

One of the more common diseases for ducks who live on a poor diet of popcorn and bread crumbs is called “Angel Wing.” It’s not as pretty as it sounds. It causes a deformity in which the wing sticks out parallel to the ground and impedes flight.

Wilmer found a Muscovy duck Wednesday morning that was suffering from Angel Wing (pictured below). She scooped it up and nestled it in her arms, to take it home and provide a better diet and hopefully treatment.

Big Spring Park duck with Angel Wing Syndrome

The duck is going to a good home. The ones left behind at Big Spring Park need for Huntsville’s living room to be a safe home for them, too.

Big Spring Park