The campus duck pond is a popular landmark among the student body and community alike. Since its 2008 renovation, the pond has transformed from blemishing, muddy hole to charming public gathering site. Yet, despite the new aesthetic upgrade, the pond remains a potential source of harm for both its avian inhabitants and frequenting humans.
The pond provides a habitat for local waterfowl. However, its small shape and limited volume can only sustain a finite number of ducks, which means the $256,000 renovation from 2008 will be a recurring necessity to support the ever growing duck population. Overcrowding leads to sanitation issues similar to those that demanded the initial refurbishment. These issues are presented in the form of stagnation from built up algae and feces. Poor sanitary conditions extend beyond just the pond itself. As the ducks wander from the pond and all about campus, their droppings follow.
Human interaction with the animals is also concerning. A primary motivation for visiting the pond is feeding the ducks; and while some may find the act therapeutic for themselves and beneficial for the waterfowl, throwing bread to the ducks has proven to be damaging. Bread can become such an abundant source of food that it attracts unnatural amounts of waterfowl to the pond. In combination with attracting new wildlife, the current inhabitants of the pond are inclined to lay more eggs, further leading to overcrowding. When the pond cannot sustain such an unnaturally large population of ducks, the ducks begin to overgraze campus lawns. The less that the duck’s natural environment is able to sustain them, the more the ducks become dependent on artificial feeding. Furthermore, the ducks compete for food that is thrown to them, leaving some of the smaller ducks malnourished. On days when food is scattered about so extensively that it remains uneaten, it is left to rot. Bread is often thrown onto the ground, scattered amongst duck fecal matter. Feeding from a feces covered pond platter facilitates the spread of disease. Disease or infection is not just limited to the ducks either. Parasites responsible for swimmer’s itch are prevalent in Montana, and while it is not common to see students wading in the pond, children tend to make the area their playground and, at times, head home somewhat damper than expected. MSU’s pond is susceptible to these parasites as they generally live in shallow waters, particularly near the shoreline, which is where young children most often make contact before being pulled away from the pond’s waters. Other forms of harmful human interaction are more blatant than feeding. Let us not forget the blow dart incident from earlier this year, where an individual found it prudent to shoot a duck with a blow gun.
The location of the duck pond can be considered a hazard as well. The pond is situated next to one of MSU’s busiest streets. 11th Avenue has already claimed the lives of several ducks, whose increasing population will only add to the number of fatalities. Besides being hazardous to the ducks, the location also serves as an inconvenience to traffic. The ducks often cross 11th in search of grass to graze, impeding traffic in the process.
The ducks migratory patterns can be lethally affected by the pond. Deriving its water from three different sources, including a sump pump from Sherrick Hall, the pond is not entirely natural. Its warm winter waters, along with artificial feeding, give the ducks a residence and reason to stay throughout the winter. Delayed or non-existent migration is lethal for waterfowl as some cannot survive the sudden onset of freezing weather.
The pond, while eye candy today, could just as easily become an eyesore tomorrow. Overgrazed lawns, feces covered sidewalks, malnourished ducks and stagnant water could be the future of the pond. Unless, of course, a few more hundred thousand dollars were spent on renovations. Students could also stop feeding the ducks … but that would take away from the pond’s appeal. Still, the most mutually beneficial course of action would be to ban feeding the ducks. Without artificial feeding, the pond and its inhabitants would resort their natural tendencies. Perhaps students will find that indulging in nature can be just as therapeutic as artificial feeding.