Ducks around Covered Bridge need extra protection

By Lesley Jenkins
Star Staff

Everyone knows and loves the ducks around Elizabethton's Covered Bridge area. Kids feed them bread and kneel down to get a duck's eye-view of the winged creatures. Unfortunately, someone or some animal is loving them a little too much.
   Since January, three sets of Muscovy ducklings have hatched and were raised for about two weeks by their attentive mothers. Soon thereafter, all of the ducks in the three separate litters disappeared.
   Proclaimed duck admirers and neighbors, Glen E. Simerly and his wife, have prepared food daily for the area ducks in their yard on Edward's Island. On a daily basis, many ducks come into his yard for a bite to eat.
   The Simerlys have enjoyed feeding and watching the ducks and ducklings grow from their house window for 14 years. He especially enjoys keeping a watchful eye on the Muscovy ducks, the ones that look like turkeys, because the mother duck will bring her babies into the yard. Three other types of ducks live in the city park: White Ducks, Mallards and Canadian Geese.
   In March, the couple noticed an alarming trend. Three Muscovy litters hatched in January, February and March, due to the unseasonable warm weather. All three litters disappeared at around two weeks of age.
   According to Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency Wildlife Officer Jeff Prater some of the ducklings could have possibly been killed by natural reasons, such as weather or predators.
   Some predators that could kill the ducks are raccoons, possums, house cats, owls and hawks, "but any of these animals would not have killed them all at one time," said Prater.
   Simerly is now worried that a person might be taking the ducks. In a letter to Elizabethton Mayor Sam LaPorte, he states, "All of these three mothers could not have lost all of their chicks, over one night's period of time, on three separate occasions. That is too much of a reoccurring coincidence.
   "The automobile traffic and the drivers traveling this area have learned to be watchful, over the years, and are very respectful and protective of the ducks. However, both my wife and I are afraid that, in particular, during the time before Easter and during the 'Covered Bridge Days,' the plight of the ducks is in jeopardy, at the hands of 'human' predators," Simerly wrote.
   In his letter to city officials, he asked that the city pass an ordinance proclaiming the ducks as city property for added protection. LaPorte replied, "I wish to first commend you for your humanitarian concern for our local wildlife. As you may or may not be aware, however, these animals are already protected under both Federal and State legislation . . . About all that can be done is to ask the police force to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity in the neighborhood of the covered bridge."
   Prater confirmed the federal and state laws that restrict anyone from possessing a wild animal. He added that transferring or selling a wild animal is also against the law and is punishable as a Class C misdemeanor and fines.
   "It is not safe for a person to possess it. Whenever the wild animal gets used to humans, it will lose its wild instincts," Prater said.
   A lot of construction work around Elk Avenue Bridge and the historic Covered Bridge has bothered some of the ducks to where they have relocated down stream into the yards around Simerly's house, but he does not think the rehabilitation of the bridges has affected the ducks enough to make whole litters of ducklings disappear.