The polite word is feces. And ducks and geese, cute as they may be, were leaving too much of it around the duck pond.
It was getting in the school practice field, across Monroe Street from the pond, and people were complaining.
“We knew we needed to do something,” said Terry Nicholson, town manager of Narrows, population around 2,100, in Giles County.
The problem started, Nicholson said, when “someone, we don’t know who … dropped off a bunch of domesticated geese at the duck pond, that had evidently purchased them, and intended to raise them, and then decided they were too much to take care of, I guess. And so they left them at the duck pond.”
People fed the birds, and the free lunch attracted wild geese. So the problem got worse.
On advice from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the town posted “No Feeding” signs. “If we just didn’t feed them, over natural attrition, eventually those birds would die out,” Nicholson said. “That’s not an ideal solution, to just let them naturally die.” Another unappealing solution was to destroy the eggs.
The town was also told to remove the domesticated geese, Nicholson said.
Renee Tucker is finishing her eighth grade year at Narrows High School. In the fall 2022 semester, Renee, then 13, took the class “Intro to Tech.” One requirement was public speaking.
“I had asked the students to pick an issue,” said Abby Taylor, who taught the class as a long-term sub. “It could be made up, or they could come up with an actual issue that they thought that our community was facing. And they were to create a presentation, and they were going to present it in front of the class, as if the class was Town Council. And the whole point of that was just to make them aware of issues in their community and also be able to practice their public speaking skills. I never intended for any of them to take it further than that.”
Renee is “one of those kids who sits back and takes it all in, and she’ll surprise you with her initiative, and just her effort and potential. It kind of sneaks up on you because she’s real quiet at first. So you don’t really know what to expect with her.”
“I decided to make a speech about the ducks and about their overpopulation and why we needed to change it,” Renee said. With the class requirement satisfied, she went a step further. She talked with her father, Brian Tucker, and they requested time at a town council meeting.
The Tuckers are experienced with birds. Before moving to Narrows in 2021, they had a farm in Chesapeake with chickens, ducks, geese and guinea fowls.
She spoke to the council on Nov. 14. She offered to determine which ducks and geese should stay and which should be rehomed, to capture the birds to be rehomed, and to relocate them. The goals included reducing feces and ensuring proper care of the avians in their new homes.
The pond population included geese, as well as Pekin, mallard and runner ducks.
The plan was approved, and the town provided fencing materials for the Tuckers to build a corral.
The corral was about 20 feet by 30 or 40 feet, “a big rectangle open on one end,” said Brian Tucker, a tradesman who works on building renovations.
“The ducks walked right in on the first day,” Renee said. “And the geese are stubborn. So it took about a month. … We were feeding them inside the corral so that they would go in and get used to it. And on Christmas Day … we decided to close up the corral and gently grab them and put them in pet crates so that we can bring them to a new home.” Renee’s brothers Joseph, Nathaniel and Zachary helped capture the fowls.
Renee’s technique is to approach the birds from behind and grab them — carefully. The roundup mostly went smoothly, although Renee did get “bopped” with a wing, Brian said. “They’ll intentionally hit you and try to stun you so they can get away.”
The Tuckers caught about 20 geese and a dozen ducks. Those not expert on birds may wonder why they didn’t fly away.
While wild geese are known for migrating long distances, domestic fowls bred as pets and livestock are poor flyers, Brian Tucker said.
It is illegal to capture and relocate wild animals. The Tuckers targeted domestic birds that had been abandoned at the pond, not wild ones.
Dumping of pets is illegal, said Gary Costanzo, migratory bird program coordinator for the Department of Wildlife Resources. But it is not uncommon.
“Especially around Easter, people go out and buy ducks or whatever,” Costanzo said. “And they’re cute when they’re little, but then they start to grow up. And they get too big, and they’re pooping all over the house and all over the yard. And so then they want to let it go ‘in the wild,’ and so they bring them down to the local park. And then other people feed them and then so it sort of snowballs from there.”
Another problem at overpopulated ponds is transmission of illnesses such as avian influenza. “That’s pretty serious,” Costanzo said. “It’s infected a lot of domestic poultry flocks all across the country. But it’s also in wild waterfowl. And it can kill wild waterfowl, or wild waterfowl can become carriers.”
The typical pondside diet of bread scraps isn’t healthy for birds, the Tuckers said.
The Tuckers found a farm that was willing to take the birds. Brian Tucker said it was about an hour south of Narrows. The farmer has “a large field that was cleared, and a pond in the middle. And then he’s got some Aussie farm dogs that protect his livestock.”
Renee said she felt it was better for the birds to be at the farm, where they could be “fed properly and have enough space to be able to walk around and not be stepping in their own feces every single day.”
Costanzo, of DWR, urges people not to release or feed birds at duck ponds. It is illegal to feed wild animals — including migratory geese, which are often found at ponds — when feeding such animals causes a health hazard.
Unfortunately not everyone follows the law. The Narrows pond was almost entirely cleared of domestic birds during the winter roundup. “Those three [birds] over there have shown up since it got warm,” said Brian Tucker, sitting on a bench at the pond, which is actually a wide spot in Wolf Creek. “Somebody else has dumped them off in the river.”
Renee said she’ll be back on the job soon, capturing domestic birds. “Because obviously, the feces are starting to come back, ’cause people are feeding them, and it’s not really good.”
She received a framed certificate from the town during a council meeting on Feb. 13, in appreciation of “her excellent leadership in the relocation of the non-native duck and geese species,” and got her picture in the local newspaper, the Virginian Leader, based in nearby Pearisburg.
Council member John Mills told her, “I can definitely see you running a Fortune 500 company some day.”
“She saw a problem and figured out a way that she could step up and help,” Nicholson said. “That’s a great, great thing for a small town like us, to have a citizen that’s willing to do that. It’s pretty inspiring.”
And her class project?
“I got an A on it,” she said with a laugh.