A plea for wild­fowl

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

A con­ser­va­tion chal­lenge, from the Bri­tish Watetr­fowl As­so­ci­a­tion

In the space of a few gen­er­a­tions many species of wild­fowl have all but dis­ap­peared from cap­tiv­ity, and this does not re­flect well on our man­age­ment tech­niques. We need to act now to pre­vent some species dis­ap­pear­ing from cap­tiv­ity com­pletely along with the knowl­edge of their proper hus­bandry.

Some would ar­gue that this does not mat­ter and will have no im­pact on wild pop­u­la­tions and in­deed, for most, this may be the case. Rightly or wrongly, our fore­bears went to great lengths, and in some cases sig­nif­i­cant per­sonal risk, to col­lect found­ing stock from around the world to en­hance their menageries, im­press friends and sat­isfy the Victorian fash­ion of col­lect­ing any­thing and ev­ery­thing. At that time, the im­pact and pres­sure on wild pop­u­la­tions by col­lect­ing flora and fauna was dis­re­garded. In sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions, with sig­nif­i­cantly in­creas­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tions and our con­sump­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources, it be­came ap­par­ent that some wild pop­u­la­tions could no longer sus­tain the ad­di­tional pres­sures caused by the con­tin­ued cap­ture of wild spec­i­mens. For­ward-look­ing in­di­vid­u­als ques­tioned the ex­ploita­tion of our nat­u­ral re­sources and the eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.

With the adop­tion of CITES and the sub­se­quent re­stric­tions on trade in wild fauna, we need to con­serve the stock that our fore­bears pro­vided us with or lose the op­por­tu­nity to work with some species com­pletely. The ex­pe­ri­ence gained in avi­cul­ture has been of great ben­e­fit to con­ser­va­tion where habi­tats are un­der threat. So do we risk los­ing knowl­edge about a species that will be­come threat­ened in the fu­ture?

Numer­ous clubs and so­ci­eties have been formed over the years to help in­di­vid­u­als share knowl­edge and im­prove man­age­ment tech­niques to as­sist with the main­te­nance of vi­able pop­u­la­tions. In­deed the Avi­cul­tural So­ci­ety that is still in ex­is­tence to­day is one of, if not the old­est so­ci­ety in ex­is­tence, hav­ing been formed in 1894. One of the fun­da­men­tal aims of this so­ci­ety was to cir­cu­late in­for­ma­tion to mem­bers by the ‘penny post’, recog­nis­ing that mem­bers lived too far apart to hold meet­ings, the nor­mal way of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion at the time. The Avi­cul­tural So­ci­ety still tries to cater for a mem­ber­ship that main­tains any avian species in cap­tiv­ity and pro­duces in­for­ma­tive mag­a­zines and ar­ranges

var­i­ous so­cial events so that mem­bers can ex­change ideas and man­age­ment tech­niques.

In more re­cent times, groups have been formed to sat­isfy the spe­cific in­ter­est of keep­ing ducks, geese and swans (wild­fowl) in cap­tiv­ity. Pos­si­bly the most fa­mous wild­fowl-spe­cific or­gan­i­sa­tion is the Wild­fowl and Wet­lands Trust (WWT) that was orig­i­nally known as the Wild­fowl Trust, founded by Sir Peter Scott. In the early days the Wild­fowl Trust main­tained the largest cap­tive collection of wild­fowl in the world and a visit to their head­quar­ters at Slim­bridge would pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to study the numer­ous dif­fer­ent species of wild­fowl. Un­der­stand­ably WWT has, over the years, evolved into a very suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion body with a fo­cus on habi­tat pro­tec­tion and now pri­mar­ily main­tains key species that help ful­fill this goal. The con­ser­va­tion of many species that WWT would pre­vi­ously have helped con­serve in cap­tiv­ity now falls to some zoos and wildlife parks, and pri­mar­ily with pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als.

This chang­ing em­pha­sis on how we keep birds sees a new flow of in­for­ma­tion. So­cial me­dia, such as Face­book is read­ily ac­ces­si­ble to any­one wish­ing to con­nect with other breed­ers. WWT and other zoo­log­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments con­tinue to of­fer breed­ing, hous­ing and rear­ing ad­vice on a daily ba­sis to pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als. In the UK, the Bri­tish Wa­ter­fowl As­so­ci­a­tion (BWA) is a lead­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps in­di­vid­u­als work to­gether to con­serve the legacy that our for­bears have left. Im­prov­ing wel­fare stan­dards and pro­mot­ing the pro­tec­tion of habi­tats con­tin­ues to be a key fo­cus. Mem­ber­ship pro­vides in­di­vid­u­als with ac­cess to a pool of knowl­edge that is read­ily shared at var­i­ous so­cial events held dur­ing the year. County rep­re­sen­ta­tives help sup­port the grass­roots mem­ber­ship; also there are reg­u­lar mag­a­zines, a Breeder Direc­tory and ac­cess to an in­for­ma­tive web­site.

Di­verse range

Main­tain­ing wild­fowl as a hobby in the UK is still very pop­u­lar. With the di­verse range of species avail­able it is pos­si­ble for the hob­by­ist to find a species that will thrive in a wide range of fa­cil­i­ties that might range from a sub­stan­tial lake to a small ar­ti­fi­cial pool. Most avail­able species have been main­tained in cap­tiv­ity over numer­ous gen­er­a­tions and adapt very well to be­ing en­closed and given the right fa­cil­i­ties will breed read­ily. In­deed, some species breed so suc­cess­fully in cap­tiv­ity that this may even be one of the rea­sons why some species lose pop­u­lar­ity. This may ap­pear to be a con­tra­dic­tion of terms but the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of sup­ply and de­mand de­ter­mine the price and there is of­ten a re­luc­tance to buy on a fall­ing mar­ket. This may then leave the hob­by­ist with lim­ited re­sources or space to ei­ther stop keep­ing that species or no longer let them breed in sub­se­quent sea­sons. With­out stud­book fa­cil­i­ties, the longterm vi­a­bil­ity of a species re­lies on many breed­ers all pro­duc­ing small num­bers of off­spring to pro­vide the best op­por­tu­nity of main­tain­ing a ge­net­i­cally vi­able pop­u­la­tion.

To­day there are var­i­ous feed man­u­fac­tur­ers that pro­duce spe­cific wa­ter­fowl di­ets, in­deed there are not just generic wa­ter­fowl di­ets; it is now pos­si­ble to get di­ets for spe­cific groups of wa­ter­fowl. Again this greatly im­proves the chances of breed­ing a given species and with the im­proved di­ets, species that were only rarely breed in the past are now be­ing pro­duced with rel­a­tive ease. It gives hob­by­ists a greater chance of breed­ing what were once very chal­leng­ing species and this then also im­pacts the value of such species and makes them more read­ily avail­able.

With suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of wa­ter­fowl be­com­ing eas­ier to breed, we have seen a re­mark­able lev­el­ling of prices. Many of the more chal­leng­ing species also hap­pen to be some of the more spec­tac­u­lar. Twenty years ago th­ese were rarely pro­duced and con­se­quently com­manded sub­stan­tial val­ues that kept them out of the reach of most avi­cul­tur­ists. Sig­nif­i­cant wealth or bril­liant avi­cul­tural skills were the only way that th­ese rarer species could be ob­tained.

In re­cent times we have seen the price dif­fer­en­tial be­tween the com­mon and rare wild­fowl sig­nif­i­cantly nar­rowed and the

We need to act now to pre­vent some species dis­ap­pear­ing from cap­tiv­ity com­pletely

rarer species now fall into a range that makes them avail­able to most avi­cul­tur­ists. To il­lus­trate, take a pair of Har­lequin Ducks – Histri­o­n­ius histri­on­i­cus. Twen­ty­five years ago th­ese changed hands for around £10k. That was a for­tune - you could buy a house for this. To­day it is pos­si­ble to buy a pair for not much over £1,000; that makes them af­ford­able to a higher pro­por­tion of avi­cul­tur­ists. This has had a no­table and pos­si­bly detri­men­tal im­pact on many of the once con­sid­ered com­mon species of wild­fowl. In­deed, many of the species that were once rare now sig­nif­i­cantly out­num­ber some of the once com­mon species. Many of the Arc­tic or sea­d­ucks are very spec­tac­u­lar and th­ese once rare birds are now be­ing con­sis­tently pro­duced by many breed­ers, mak­ing them read­ily avail­able. While still ex­pen­sive, they now have a cost that is af­ford­able to many. In­stead of tak­ing many breed­ing sea­sons to per­haps be in a po­si­tion to ob­tain th­ese, it is now pos­si­ble to move from a collection of the be­gin­ner species to those that were once very rare and ex­pen­sive in a sea­son or two. Ob­vi­ously we are all free to dis­pose of our in­come as we see fit, but by mov­ing from recog­nised be­gin­ner species to the mega species we are for­get­ting about the in­ter­me­di­ate species, and th­ese are now be­com­ing very rare and in some cases no longer avail­able. As avi­cul­tur­ists we of­ten jus­tify our hobby by re­fer­ring to our skills of breed­ing birds in cap­tiv­ity that might one day help with the con­ser­va­tion of a species in the wild, as was the case in the past with the Ne Ne or Hawai­ian Goose – Branta sand­vi­cen­sis.

To­day’s cap­tive pop­u­la­tions may not be good enough to re-in­tro­duce to the wild, but they ex­ist in cap­tiv­ity to per­pet­u­ate the skillset and as a source of in­spi­ra­tion. They also ex­ist to help pre­vent fu­ture il­le­gal collection.

Once com­mon species

The list of once com­mon species that have now al­most dis­ap­peared from cap­tive col­lec­tions is dif­fi­cult to de­fine and varies from coun­try to coun­try. For in­stance, where apart from WWT might you see large groups of Sharp-winged Teal – Anas flavi­rostris oxyptera or Chilean Pin­tail - Anas geor­gica spini­cauda? East In­dian Grey Teal – Anas gib­ber­ifrons are com­monly kept in the US but how many are there here? Sadly the list is very long and we need to ac­tively seek out ex­am­ples of th­ese species and re­ally make an ef­fort to breed them and en­cour­age fel­low hob­by­ists to also keep them too. Where num­bers be­come low, care must be taken to en­sure that the re­main­ing stock does not suf­fer from in­breed­ing. This will be dif­fi­cult, but when buy­ing stock we should try to get birds that are un­re­lated, or buy a re­lated pair and then try and lo­cate other breed­ers and ar­range an ex­change. The BWA pro­duces an an­nual Breeder Direc­tory and also has a For Sale and Wanted sec­tion on the web­site. Th­ese are good places to try and lo­cate un­re­lated stock.

Many of the species that are in de­cline do not com­pare with Man­darins – Aix ga­ler­ic­u­lata, Caroli­nas – Aix sponsa, Har­lequin - Histri­o­n­ius histri­on­i­cus or King Eider – So­ma­te­ria spectabilis in terms of stun­ning plumage but most species have other at­tributes that can be equally ap­peal­ing to the ob­ser­vant avi­cul­tur­ist. Please con­sider in­clud­ing one or two of the less pop­u­lar species in your collection and work with them so that we can en­sure that they are avail­able for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

* Roger Cat­ter­mole, au­thor of this ar­ti­cle, has been in­volved with the breed­ing many dif­fer­ent species of wild­fowl for much of his life. He has a pri­vate collection, Nor­folk Wild­fowl. He says: “My aim is to cre­ate gar­dens that have a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion with the wild­fowl that cre­ates a more en­vi­ron­men­tally com­plete pic­ture. There are many wa­ter­fowl col­lec­tions and even more stun­ning gar­dens but there are very few in­stances where the two are com­bined.” MORE: http://nor­folk­wild­fowl.co.uk/ * Find out more about the Bri­tish Wa­ter­fowl As­so­ci­a­tion at www.wa­ter­fowl.org.uk

A male Man­darin

ABOVE: A pair of African Pygmy Geese LEFT: A male In­dian Pygmy Goose BE­LOW: A Ja­van Whistling Duck

A Spec­ta­cled Eider chased by a Man­darin

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