As bitter weather ripped through the Northeast this winter, Amelie and Alicia were struggling to survive on a frozen pond in upstate New York. According to observers, three ducks were on the pond originally, but one had vanished. Sadly, the only clue pointing to what might have happened to the third duck was a blood-soaked patch of ice near the center of the pond.
Empty Cages Collective, a Brooklyn-based animal and environmental advocacy organization, got word of the two domestic ducks in early February and quickly dispatched a team to the site. Amelie and Alicia were cold, afraid, and bleeding when rescuers found them. With a forecast of heavy snow followed by freezing rain headed their way, rescuers knew they had to get the pair to safety immediately.
But doing so was no easy task. The ducks were wary and could not be tempted with food. The team spent all day trying to catch them, and they ultimately succeeded by herding the two ducks toward shore with a 200-foot rope strung across the pond. Finally, the birds were safely loaded in the rescue vehicle around 9:00 p.m. Once inside, they seemed grateful to be somewhere warm.
In their efforts to find permanent refuge for Amelie and Alicia, Empty Cages reached out to us. We gladly welcomed the birds to our New York Shelter and have set about helping them recover from their ordeal. Among the most pressing tasks is treating the frostbite on their feet. Both have shortened upper bills that left their mouths exposed to the elements, but, to our relief, neither suffered frostbite on her tongue. This mutilation, the result of a de-billing procedure, speaks to their origins.
Amelie and Alicia are Moulards, a breed favored by producers of foie gras. French for “fatty liver,” foie gras is created by force-feeding ducks large quantities of corn and fat through a metal tube that is thrust down their throats until their livers are morbidly engorged. Only male ducks are subjected to this torture and producers either gas females to death or sell them to be raised for meat — a different brand of torture.
As with chicken and turkey meat production, duck meat producers typically keep birds confined in intensely crowded industrial buildings where stress and frustration drive them to fight. Rather than giving the birds more space, producers opt to mitigate injuries by amputating portions of their highly sensitive bills. These painful de-billing procedures are performed without anesthetic or painkillers, resulting in both acute and lingering pain. Without the sensitive tips of their bills, ducks’ natural behaviors of preening, dabbling, and exploring their environment are inhibited, and they often struggle with eating.
Having experienced such horrific cruelty at human hands, Amelie and Alicia are understandably timid and reserved around people, but they also show encouraging sparks of curiosity about their new caregivers. Our shelter staff will continue offering all of the compassion and patience these girls need to feel secure. Their greatest comfort, though, is their friendship. These two sweet ducks have endured so much together, and they clearly forged a deep and loving bond in the process.
Once they receive a clean bill of health, we’ll introduce them to our flock of other Moulards who have been rescued from the foie gras industry. Amelie and Alicia nearly died when they were callously abandoned on the ice, but here, where they are enveloped in a warm community of survivors, they will thrive.