What the duck: Sacramento pond project delayed until after breeding season

Resident raised concerns about the danger to local waterfowl, turtles

Renovations could soon begin at two murky city ponds that have long attracted community concern. As for the fledgling waterfowl that call the funky waters their home, that’s a trickier story.

Judy McClaver is an East Sacramento resident who considers herself an advocate for the pond’s wildlife denizens at McKinley Park. She’s been pressing the city to delay its renovation project, which would require draining the ponds, until September, when she says any baby goslings hatched during the current breeding season will have completed their molt and begun to fly.

“These birds need this pond for survival,” she told SN&R. “The only safe place where the moms have to put their babies is in the center island. If they empty the pond, these babies will lose their source of food and their source of safety.”

In a media release, the city of Sacramento said its consulting biologist advised delaying the renovations at both McKinley and Land Park ponds until the breeding season was completed. The biologist will conduct a survey of the McKinley Park pond in the coming weeks to determine when the renovations can start, said city spokeswoman Marycon Razo.

“Once renovations begin, waterfowl are expected to passively relocate to other ponds in the area,” the release states. “This will minimize the number of birds that may need to be captured and removed. If sick or injured waterfowl do not passively relocate, they will be safely captured by a qualified individual and taken to a bird rehabilitation center or other facility for care and eventual release to an appropriate local wildlife site.”

McClaver said the flighted ducks at the Mckinley pond will most likely move to the river. Two ducks currently in the pond have a wing deformity called “angel wing,” which prevents them from flying. The condition can be corrected when birds are young, but is untreatable in older birds. It often occurs when ducks are overfed bread, McClaver said. The city planned to temporarily house those birds during construction.

The pond also has a large population of red-ear sliders, a turtle species designated as invasive by the state of California. After McClaver raised concerns about the turtles’s fate, the city’s Front Street Animal Shelter and the Northern California Herpetological Society agreed to remove them from the pond and put them up for adoption.

As for the ponds themselves, the city considers their restoration long overdue.

McClaver said that, in the spring of 2013, the pond had eight times the acceptable level of bacteria and was deemed to be a community health hazard. She said the contamination was a consequence of waterfowl, turtles and humans urinating and defecating in the pond.

The city council established a pond advisory council in 2014 and, last week, allocated $575,500 in Measure U sales-tax revenue for the clean-up and maintenance of both ponds. Along with removing sludge from the ponds, the city will install aeration systems, automatic water-level controls and pond liners with soil covers.

McClaver has also called for a fence that could prevent drownings in the pond. On October 5, 2015, she said she found the body of a man who was living out of his car in the pond. She also said she was attacked once while cleaning the pond on July 20, 2014.