Make way for ducklings

The lily pond in Rockefeller Park, just across from the Irish Hunger Memorial, now has a small fleet of fuzzy ducklings — hatched right here in the wilds of Battery Park City. But of course there’s a flap.

On the advice of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Battery Park City Authority built a ramp to help the fledglings waddle out of the pond, since as a manmade hardscape water feature, it has no soft edges.

“Due to the Lily Pond’s design, once ducklings enter they often experience difficulty exiting it without assistance. The ramp will be removed in the fall to coincide with the duck’s migration south. Ramping for duckling access/egress is common practice in parks across the city and country, and is recommended by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for ducks nesting in enclosed areas and pools.”

But regulars at the pond started a movement on Nextdoor (which I don’t usually peruse, but a reader pointed it out) to get the BPCA to remove the ramp. Fidi resident Esther Regelson has asked neighbors to help feed and monitor the ducklings, making sure they don’t use the ramp, since she is sure it will just be an invitation for the little guys to fall into the Hudson, where they will drown (they need to spend the vast majority of their time on dry land while they have downy feathers, and they require shallows to feed, rather than the deep waters of the river.).

There was a lot of back and forth there on Nextdoor, including one inflammatory suggestion from a Tribeca resident that the authority is putting the ramp there on purpose so the ducks will die and therefore scare off other ducks that might find the pond alluring as a habitat. But Michelle Ashkin, who commented here below, has been monitoring this for a couple years as a local resident and an educator with a degree in conservation biology at the Wild Bird Fund and says the DEC’s blanket ramp recommendations don’t suit this particular location, with the hazard of the river so nearby. (You can contact her directly to help out or get more info at BPCducklings@gmail.com.)

Regelson has now organized a group of volunteers to patrol the pond and also make sure the ducks aren’t fed by visitors other than them, which is something both the BPCA and the duck fans sort of agree on.

“Please do not feed any wildlife in BPC – ducks or otherwise,” is the official policy. “Doing so can harms the animals, and/or condition them to expect food from humans instead of finding it naturally.”

 

8 Comments

  1. I didn’t realize they hatched. I’ve been routinely checking on the nest but hadn’t been able to in past couple days. I am involved somewhat but unable to commit to a volunteer schedule and have been unable to make the last couple zoom meetings. Nice that you wrote a piece.

  2. I appreciate the concerns in the article expressed above but I want to make clear what has happened at the pond and the position of our group – BPC Wildlife Watch. We feel the BPCA is acting on the assumption of rigid standards and needs to act on the facts at the pond.

    Currently we are in discussion with the BPCA on this but they are entirely misguided. Every circumstance is different and while this is a wise practice in many cases it will not succeed at the Lily Pond. First of all, BPCA has created an inviting habitat for ducks to roost in totally uninviting surroundings outside the pond. If the ducklings get out of the pond before they can fly, they will be accosted by many dangers – aggressive people, overzealous children, bikers, cars, etc. But WORST of all is the habitat in the Hudson! More than once the ducklings climbed a ramp out of this pond following their mother in search of food and fell right into the river. This section of the river is over a mile of high stone wall with no place to roost. The ducklings have to swim incessantly, have no waterproofing in their feathers, and no place to rest and they sink and drown. As an entirely man-made creation, the proprietors need to take responsibility. They should do so by keeping the ducklings in the pond, feeding them nutritious food daily while keeping visitors from giving them junk, and letting them climb or fly out when they are mature enough to do so on their own. We have arranged a body of volunteers to make this happen for these creatures and short of preventing any ducks from nesting here at all, or oiling the eggs early so that they will not hatch, this is the safest most responsible route. The ramp has proven to be a death sentence for these little birds and it does nothing to help them except to decimate the brood in its entirety by unnatural means.

  3. My name is Michelle Ashkin. I have been monitoring this situation for years and have been in discussion with BPCA since 2018, so I am glad to see this getting much needed attention. Esther Regelson is a dear friend and colleague, but to set the record straight, I started this group. Esther posted this in NextDoor because after much discussion we realized that the only other option we have to save these animals is to galvanize a corps of committed volunteers to monitor the pond. The reason we have to do this, and the ONLY reason we have to do this, is because BPCA will not remove that ramp. Why are we so insistent that this ramp be removed? Because if the ducklings leave the safety of the pond and enter the Hudson, they will die. It is as simple as that. The facts are very clear. Here are a few: 1) Mallard ducklings must feed in the shallows where they meander around to find vegetation and other food sources. They cannot find food in deep or open water like the Hudson, at least not in its present state with no river bank or wetlands. 2) Ducklings need to rest and sleep often ON DRY LAND. Without the ability to do that they will die from exhaustion, or more likely, hypothermia or drowning. Why? Because their feathers are not waterproofed. They need their mother to use the oils from her body to waterproof their downy feathers, and she does this when they are at rest, snuggled up to her, on dry land. 3) They can only stay in the water for at most two hours or so. After that, their downy feathers will become completely waterlogged, they will be drenched to the skin with cold water, and if they don’t die from hypothermia first, they will sink and drown. 4) The Hudson in this part of Manhattan has NO dry land for them to rest. NO shallow water with vegetation of any kind except for some seaweed by the rocks near Stuyvesant High School. And the mother will keep searching to find a place for her babies tor rest. They will follow her, of course, but they cannot go very far before they succumb to the river. We have seen it happen. These little things disappear one by one. The DEC’s blanket recommendation applies to situations where ducklings are stuck in pools and cannot get out to find food or dry land. But this is a completely different matter, with a unique set of circumstances, and there is absolutely no question at all that if these ducklings leave the pond and go into the river, they will die. It is imperative that the remain in the safety of the pond if they are to survive. As a conservation biologist, wildlife rehabber, and environmental and wildlife educator for the past 30 years I can speak with authority on this issue. Why we are facing such resistance is beyond me, but we will not sit back and do nothing. To be clear, we have taken away the natural habitat that these animals require, built our homes and our promenades, and created – for ourselves – a pretty pond. Our Mallards recognize this as a place they can make their nests and raise their young. Aren’t we lucky though? We should embrace this wonderful asset as an opportunity to create a unique, educational, and joyful experience that reconnects us to nature and each other, and teaches us about the urban wildlife in our own backyard. I ask the writer or editor of this paper to please contact me so that I can provide you with more information. Our precious urban wildlife needs our help, and we can only do that if we get the facts out so that people understand why we are fighting so hard for this. Anyone else reading this post and who wants to learn more or get involved please email me a BPCducklings.com . We have a Facebook page as well: BPC Ducklings that I will be updating regularly. We need the community to support us so that we don’t have to fight for this every single year. It is exhausting, time consuming and expensive. And there are a lot of other urban wildlife issues we need to address, not only in BPC but all around NYC.

  4. We just need to look at the examples of last year vs 2019. In 2019 there was a duck ramp and none of the ducklings survived to adulthood. In 2020 there was no ramp and 3 sets of ducklings made it to adulthood. The fountain in late August was full of healthy ducks, it was wonderful to see. And they all flew south when it was time. Putting the ramp back is cruel and pointless.

  5. These ducks have brought so much joy, especially during Covid. I walked or ran by them almost daily and always stopped for a moment. Two of them stayed all winter! I would see them in North Cove when the pond got icy but then they were back. Thank you for protecting the ducklings.

  6. The Mallards have successfully hatched and raised ducklings for years in this pond without the interference of a ramp. Absolutely not necessary and a dangerous mistake to leave it in place!

  7. One simple solution. It makes sense the ducklings can not spend all their time in water. It is also quite apparent once the ducklings use the ramp they will be stepped on, driven over, pick up by most people, taken home as”pets”, or fall into the Hudso. Solution: elevate a few of those round planted areas in the pond a bit so they won’t flood AND PUT THE RAMP THERE. The ducklings remain in the pond they are familiar and comfortable in, and totally eliminates human interference, and the treat of the Hudson River.

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