Mallards next on the U.S. no-fly list

Hart Attacks: We Canadians cannot control our ducks, and what they carry with them

With a Twitter-happy president south of the border, I predict it is just a matter of time before Canada — and migrating Canadian ducks specifically — receives nasty tweets for pooping out weed seeds on U.S. farms.

That would almost be a joke except that President Trump appears to be such an unpredictable character, with a very strong protectionist attitude, and not a great grasp of self-control that migrating ducks — with no photo ID and no passport — could figuratively and literally be a target of U.S. reprisal.

According to a recent Western Producer article by writer Robert Arnason, the millions of ducks winging across North American flyways may be chief culprits in the spread of some serious weeds on both sides of the border — the first water hemp weed plants in Manitoba and palmer amaranth (type of pigweed) moving across Missouri.

Where did they come from, how did they get there? A University of Missouri researcher has been looking into the possible causes — migrating ducks are leading suspects.

The guts of the issue

The researchers looked at the guts of 283 hunting-harvested ducks and extracted about 14,500 weed seeds, which represented 50 different species of weeds including water hemp and palmer amaranth. Ducks apparently like weed seeds. Snow geese didn’t ingest nearly as many weed seeds and there was no mention of Canada geese which I believe are genetically programmed to only poop on pathways, sidewalks and golf courses, so pose no threat to crops.

From my farm boy, duck-rearing days I recall ducks have a fairly effective digestive system using a well-muscled gizzard to grind their food. However, these researchers fed weed seeds to live ducks and in a less than appealing task learned that 15 to 20 per cent of smaller weed seeds made it through the gut of the ducks without being digested.

And considering that birds poop every 10 minutes or so (they might pace themselves a bit on long flights) it’s more than likely when walking around wetlands and grain fields that seeds could be deposited.

And seeds can easily be carried from one area to another. Ducks Unlimited’s book of little known facts says on average ducks fly 80 km/hr. so in eight hours of flying time could travel 640 kilometres (with a tail wind that could increase to 1,000 kilometres) —more than enough distance to get them from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Regina, Sask., or Fargo, N.D. to Steinbach, Man., and vice-versa.

If this news ever makes it to Washington, D.C., it’s hard to predict what the consequences would be. Sure these snow birds might winter in the southern U.S. but if they are nesting and hatching on the Canadian Prairies or even further north then I would guess that country-of-origin labelling pegs them as Canadian ducks. (Yes I dug out that COOL term because it wouldn’t surprise me, World Trade Order ruling or not, country-of-origin labelling will be back on the agenda before this administration has run its course.)

Mexicans are bad, Muslims are bad, so it stands to Trump-reason Canadian ducks carrying problematic weed seeds on their annual migration are bad too. We Canadians cannot control our ducks.

If a mile-high net goes up along the U.S. border to prevent birds from flying, there probably isn’t much the Canadian government can say or do.

The world might not be scared, but I sense a certain amount of “walking on egg shells” around the Trump administration. Anyone that so far contradicts him is either fired or ridiculed.

Prime Minister Trudeau was criticized by the opposition for not taking a stronger stand (or any stand really) on Trump’s decision to ban, just not allow, Muslims from seven different countries to travel to the U.S.

Trudeau, the able boxer that he is, could have come out swinging with a condemnation of this ban that’s not a ban, but I sense people are choosing their words carefully around the unpredictable Trump. He could lash out or retaliate with who knows what measure that could have far deeper consequences than an unreasonable ban on a few innocent people crossing the U.S. border. Worst case scenario it could affect maple syrup trade.

For the “mature” readers in the crowd I remember one episode of the old “Twilight Zone” (probably 40 years ago now) where there was a little kid with extraordinary powers, and all the adults were dancing around him and doing everything possible to keep him happy because if Billy got unhappy, he would make you “disappear.”

I don’t know if we are quite in that position with Donny Trump, but I’m getting a few of those vibes.

So to all migratory birds, for the sake of continental order perhaps you could curb these annual migrations that have gone on for 5,000 years or more. Would it really be so bad if you had to stay home all year, at least for the next four winters. I know it is asking a lot but world peace may depend on it.

If any species can appreciate this request it is waterfowl — Canada is now sharing a nest box with one very strange duck.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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