By Brian Biggane
The decision to remove 24 Muscovy ducks from The Little Club property in late January left one member angry and others disappointed.
Robert Lehner, who has been general manager at the Gulf Stream club only since May, said club administrators made the decision to relocate the birds because of safety and health concerns.
“They were being fed, and that was a major issue,” Lehner said on Jan. 22, one day after having Wildlife Removal Services of West Palm Beach collect the birds and relocate them to a property near Lake Okeechobee.
“They were aggressive. We had someone who was bitten. We have a [dining] patio out back and they were pretty much living off the patio. The Health Department could shut us down if they did an inspection and found duck feces back there.”
Lehner’s explanations did not sit well with member Jackie Robinson, who resides with her husband, Richard, in Ocean Ridge. Claiming that only eight ducks out of 88 born on the property last February are still alive, Robinson said she took it upon herself to feed and take care of them.
“Yes, once in a while they pooped outside. If you’ve been to any golf course, there’s poop everywhere,” she said. “These ducks have lived there for the decade I’ve been [a member] and never bothered anyone. One of them apparently nipped at a lady when she went to pick up her purse, [but] she was out there playing with them to begin with … and when she went to pick up her purse she got nipped.
“Obviously they thought she was going to feed them. That was a non-issue.”
The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida recommends not to feed Muscovy ducks, as once they are fed they become reliant on handouts and too lazy to forage for their natural diet. It consists of vegetation and insects, both of which are abundant in South Florida.
“All I have to do is call their name and they come running to me,” Robinson said.
Robinson was also upset that members were not notified ahead of the removal. Lehner sent out a letter notifying them of the decision after the birds had been taken.
“It read, ‘The ducks have been fed by a member, which is not allowed,’” Robinson said. “No one has ever told me that in the 10 months I’ve been taking care of them. A bunch of people feed them.
“It also said, ‘We have been assured the ducks have been relocated to a waterway out west.’ First it was Okeechobee, now it’s a waterway out west. I should go out there. They’ll come running to me if I call their names.”
Lehner said he was told the ducks would be taken to a “28-acre property off Lake Okeechobee,” but did not say where. “‘I am aware that you cannot relocate them into the wild. That’s why I was told they were going to a private property,” he said.
Repeated calls to Wildlife Removal Services seeking clarification were not returned.
Similarly, a request to speak to the woman who claimed to have been bitten did not get a response.
Robinson insisted that the ducks had not been relocated but instead had been euthanized.
Florida regulations do not permit Muscovy ducks to be put back into the wild for fear of spreading disease.
“They’re an invasive species, which means they’re not supposed to be here,” Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control spokesman David Walesky said. “There are very limited options [to relocate] them.
“Humane euthanasia is oftentimes the most practical. I have heard of sanctuaries, I have heard of people in certain cultures eating them, but humane euthanasia is most practical.”
The Little Club members Casey Syring and Maria Guoth expressed disappointment the day after the removal that the ducks were no longer around.
“They were the most tame animals you ever saw,” Syring said. “I’m very disappointed.”
Guoth agreed, then added, “But people feeding them was not good. That changed the balance. Some people got angry, there were too many ducks.”
Robinson said she was going to continue the fight, “blasting it on social media” and reaching out to her representatives in Washington for action.
“I love them more than I love my dog,” she said. “It just breaks my heart.”