The Hobart

How Hybrid Ducks are Threatening the Future of Native Ducks

by Jason Graham
How Hybrid Ducks are Threatening the Future of Native Ducks

Everyone loves ducks, but how many people know what a “duck” actually is? In Tasmania, we have 11 species of native ducks, either full time residents or occasional visitors. Sadly for our ducks, they’re not as famous as a lot of our other native birds. A recent Victorian study found that only 1 in 6 Victorians can name a single native duck species, and Tasmanians, I imagine ,wouldn’t fare much better. The image of a local duck that you have in your head right now might not even be an Australian duck!

Around Hobart, we are lucky to have plenty of suitable habitat for some of the more common duck species, like the tree-nesting Australian Wood Duck, the elegant Pacific Black Duck and the handsome Chestnut Teal. Some are less common around Hobart, like the Australasian Shoveler with their massive bills, the very unique looking Musk Duck and the oddly-named Hardhead. Then there are the visitors to the Derwent Estuary, like Freckled and Pink-eared Ducks. Both of which look completely different from a standard “duck.”

When we picture ducks, it’s probably safe to say that most of us picture a webbed-footed water bird that’s either green and grey, light brown, all-white, or a combination. Maybe you don’t have a specific duck in your head right now, but rather the image of multiple yellow bills pecking at your hands for more bread. I, like most Tasmanians, have memories of feeding these ducks as a child (Richmond was our local), and many municipalities in Tasmania have their go-to spot for feeding tame ducks. These ducks have a name: Mallards.

Mallards are a Northern hemisphere species, and have been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. Feral duck populations in Tasmania are a mix of wild and domestic mallards (think white farm ducks). Mallards are bigger and more aggressive than natives, and when there is a stable food and water source (Bread, lettuce, tubs of water etc.), their numbers can explode! This is bad news for our smaller, more timid native ducks. It doesn’t take long for mallards to push out the smaller natives, who just can’t compete with their numbers and size.

Australian shoveler

More and more people are becoming aware of the impacts of feeding bread to wildlife, which is fantastic. Feeding ducks bread leads to all kinds of health, behavioural and environmental issues. What is not often advertised, is that feeding ANY kind of food to ducks is harmful. No human food can beat the natural diet of insects and plants that ducks feed themselves on while dabbling or diving, and swapping bread for greens still supports populations of feral ducks. Even simply putting out a tub of water may seem like a harmless way to help ducks, but the only species who benefit from this are feral ducks, who prefer to stay in their local area and essentially take it over. Native ducks on the other hand simply fly away if they’re thirsty or hungry. The best way to help all Tasmanian ducks is to let them find their own food and water.

What concerns me the most about the number of mallards in Tasmania, is the hybridisation impact on native Pacific Black Ducks (PBD). Mallards and PBDs are closely related and can interbreed easily, which results in lots of fertile hybrid offspring. Crossbreeding is very common, with larger male mallards skipping the courtship rituals of PBDs and simply forcing themselves on native female PBDs. Some PBD x mallard hybrids are easily spotted by their bright orange legs, blotchy bills or larger bodies, but many of the traits are subtle and take practice to identify. Due to the success of these hybrids, it’s difficult to spot a genetically pure PBD in the Derwent Estuary and many other Tasmanian waterways. This hybridisation has resulted in the near-extinction of lots of duck species around the world. In New Zealand, the problem is so widespread that native PBDs have almost completely been replaced by hybrids! PBDs are now rare on Macquarie, Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands due to mallard cross-breeding. Around the world, the mallard hybridisation problem is always more severe on islands. The fact that Tasmania is smaller than New Zealand is very concerning for the future of our Pacific Black Duck.

Mallard PBD Hybrid

To best look after our native Tasmanian ducks, we need to enjoy them by identifying them, learning about them, and by simply watching them going about their business. As a reformed duck feeder, I guarantee that this is much more educational, rewarding and fun. RPSCA Victoria and Birdlife Australia have created a great website that I encourage everyone to check out, all about our Australian ducks: www.discoverducks.org.au.

Jason Graham is a registered native duck carer and holds a Bachelor of Natural Environment & Wilderness Studies

Love this

Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close
Exploring Tassie These Winter School Holidays
We know that staying indoors with the family isn’t always fun. And while it’s obviously cold outside, you’re only a puffer jacket and beanie away from being comfortable and ready to explore. There’s lots of family fun to be had in all sorts of weird and wonderful places across the state these school holidays.
Sand Surfing on the Peninsula
The half-day walk to Crescent Beach in the Tasman National Park offers so much- including epic sand dunes for surfing and incredible views.
27 Hobart Friends Get Snipping For One Off Wine
The borders were declared shut in Tasmania on the 30th of March, 2020; the first stare to do so amid the COVID- 19 pandemic and hard lockdown of Hobart followed.
Danphe Nepalese and Indian Food + Peppermint Bay Bar and Bistro
Nepalese food is a comfort in our house. Having spent much time trekking and mountain climbing in Nepal as a younger man, Nepalese food is something I always love to go back to.
That’s DR Hannah Gadsby To You
From Smithton to Netflix and the Emmys stage, Tasmanian stand up comic Hannah Gadsby has forged an unlikely path. Following on from the massive success of her shows Nanette and Douglas, Hannah brings her new show Body of Work to Hobart this month.
PODCAST: Incat founder Robert Clifford on why electric boats are the future
Robert Clifford is the founder of Incat, a Hobart company building fast ferries for the world. Always looking to future opportunities, he has identified where Hobart sits in the next wave of transportation. For more of this interview listen to The Hobart Magazine podcast.
Is Tourism Ready For More Forestry Wars?
Tasmanian forests are special. They’re home to centuries-old trees, including the tallest flowering trees on the planet, and support unique native species. Yet not everyone agrees on how these forests should be managed.
Hobart Chefs: When The Obsession Becomes Real
Tasmania’s brand as a foodie haven is cemented. But within the local hospitality industry there are those who love to use local produce...and those who are next-level obsessed with it. We spoke to a bunch of Hobart chefs who are top of the game when it comes to fostering relationships with local farmers and growers.
Did You Know Australia’s First Female Doctor Was Hobartian?
Tasmania, despite its small size and population in comparison to the mainland, has produced more than its proportionally predicted percentage of significant figures and heroes of Australian history. 
Return Travellers Adding Pressure to Hobart Housing
For all of us 2020 was a year like no other, punctuated by rapid change and plenty of new challenges. For vulnerable people in Tasmania, including people facing homelessness, those on low incomes and those facing increasingly higher rents, it was very challenging. We are seeing a growing demand for homes in Tassie from international travellers returning home, people moving for work and others seeking the lifestyle that our Apple Isle has to offer.
Magazine
AboutContributeAdvertiseNewsletter Sign UpContact
July 2022

Stay up to date with everything happening at the Hobart Magazine.

Thank you to Luke Brokensha for mobilising his friends and local residents recently to host two rubbish clean ups along the Hobart Rivulet after heavy rains.
The warm weather returns...hello summer.
Need a laugh? Check out @theinspiredunemployed feed on Instagram.
Moto Vecchia Cafe in Bellerive and Czegs Cafe in Richmond have joined the Clarence City Council dementia program, creating dementia-friendly spaces for all patrons.
It’s hard to believe it’s not standard practice to have a working phone in every aged care room - shared phones make private conversations impossible and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Tacks on the tracks. Mountain bikers beware of tacks being left on certain tracks on the mountain.
Just when you think your cousins are alright. NZ Opposition Leader Judith Collins took aim at Tassie during her recent (unsuccessful) campaign, calling us Australia’s “poor cousin.” She also seems worried about us nabbing tech businesses, “It’s a lovely part of the world but do you necessarily want to go there with your high- tech business? Possibly not,” she said. We beg to differ!