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The Muscovy: The Ugly Duck With No Luck

May 19, 1986

MIAMI (AP) _ Some ugly ducklings blossom into swans. Others take a turn for the worse and grow up to be Muscovys.

Unloved, unwanted and much-maligned, the Muscovy duck never meant harm to anyone, but as the friendless fowl waddles through life it leaves behind a trail of enemies who think it’s one bird whose goose should be cooked.

To many, the Muscovy is a duck in name only. It has never been mistaken for a swan. It hisses like a snake, eats like a horse and leaves more droppings than a pack of dogs.

″A lot of people see it as a water-bound pigeon,″ said Detective Sherry Schlueter, an animal abuse specialist with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. ″I like them and think they deserve better, but I know I’m in the minority.″

The Muscovy begin life cute and fuzzy, but grow to be troublesome, distinguished by their wheezy hiss. They are about two feet in length and weigh five to eight pounds. The males’ faces are covered with large red wattles that look like overgrown warts. Females lack the wattles, but are considered just as ugly.

The Muscovy eat too much and are incessant beggars. They mate year-round and reproduce feverishly. Their droppings are quite large; they consistently walk in front of cars; and they aren’t even good to eat.

″If you were hungry enough, you could force yourself to eat a Muscovy,″ said Lew Watson, a Broward County extension agent. ″But you’d have to force yourself to do it. It’s nothing but a big greaseball. You can hardly stomach them. It’s a good thing the alligators can.″

Towns and individuals have gone to great lengths to rid themselves of the Muscovy, which is native to Central and South America, but was imported to Florida long ago and is now found throughout the United States.

Suburban Coral Gables paid to have every Muscovy hauled out of town. Leesburg officials repealed an ordinance that forbade killing ducks, with the Muscovy much on their minds. Casselberry revoked its protected status and made it illegal to feed them. Margate employed Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to collect their eggs.

Residents who have taken matters into their own hands have shown even less sympathy.

The birds have been shot with dart guns, tied up inside plastic bags, and hanged from trees, said Ms. Schlueter. Exterminators have been hired to feed them poison.

In one recent case investigated by Ms. Schlueter, an apartment complex manager was allegedly paying children $1 for each Muscovy they killed.

″We get 20 calls a day from people complaining about the Muscovy,″ said Lorraine Soper of the Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale. ″People not only dislike them, but they are unusually cruel to them.″

The luckless ducks can’t even get a break from the law. Neither state nor federal laws protect the Muscovy, said Lt. Charles Dennis, an inspector with the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

″We try our best to stay away from any controversy involving the Muscovy,″ Dennis said.

Probably the best friend the Muscovy have is Eunice Sivertsen, who keeps 60 to 100 of them in her Margate backyard, where few people dare to tread.

Mrs. Sivertsen opened her home to the web-footed wounded in 1974 after watching an irate neighbor with a rake chase a Muscovy.

Now, she gets up at 5 a.m. daily to clean their sand, fix their meals and wash out three small swimming pools that serve as ponds.

″It’s a full-time job,″ said Mrs. Sivertsen, who said she spends at least eight hours a day taking care of her fowl friends, many of whom are recuperating from injuries inflicted by people.

It costs her up to $80 a week for the 200 pounds of scratch feed, 75 pounds of dry dog food and 25 pounds of spaghetti she feeds them.

And what do they give her in return?

″The best fertilized yard in the world,″ she said. ″You should see my hibiscus.″

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