Downtown ducks refusing to fly south

FAIRBANKS — Four ducks, evidently attracted by the possibility of a free meal, have taken to the streets of downtown Fairbanks looking for handouts rather than flying south for the winter.

On Monday, the ducks — two female and two male mallards — were chased away from the front of Rabinowitz Courthouse on First Avenue by a pair of bird biologists who had been called by Alaska State Troopers. The biologists chased the ducks back to a shrinking sliver of open water in the nearby Chena River, which the birds have been occupying since the river began to freeze a month ago.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the ducks were back, this time in front of Big Ray’s on Second Avenue.

“They were in the street and people were feeding them there,” said migratory waterfowl biologist Karen Bollinger with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fairbanks.

The federal agency, which oversees migratory birds, received calls both days from residents concerned about the ducks’ welfare. Bollinger on Thursday caught the ducks, which were roosting next to Big Ray’s outfitter store, and transported them back to the river.

“I’m hoping a little negative experience will be enough (to keep them out of the streets),” Bollinger said.

Chances are, though, they will be back.

“They’re pretty conditioned now to being fed,” Bollinger said.

While feeding the ducks isn’t illegal and might seem beneficial to the birds given the subzero-degree temperatures of late, that’s not the case, the biologist said.

“It’s not good for the ducks in the long run,” Bollinger said. “It’s going to condition the birds to staying here.”

With the recent spate of cold weather, the small section of open water in the middle of the Chena River is getting smaller, and it won’t be long before the river is frozen over. When that happens, Bollinger isn’t sure where the ducks will go.

“If they show back up (on the streets of Fairbanks), I’ll take them further away,” Bollinger said.

One possibility is relocating the ducks downstream to the open section of river behind the Carlson Center, where a flock of 200 to 300 ducks remains all winter, nourished by a faithful flock of followers who feed them regularly.

Regardless, Bollinger said there are more important things she should be doing than chasing ducks through the streets of Fairbanks.

“It’s nice that the public is concerned, but it takes lot of time when I should be doing other things,” she said.

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