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Injured Water Birds Find A Safe Haven To Heal And Find Love

Bee and Marvin form a devoted couple, and despite that unfortunate sex incident, they still can't get enough of each other.

Kept safely apart in adjoining pens until Bee recovers from injuries she sustained during some rough summer hanky panky, the two ducks follow each other's every move, squawking with a mixture of frustration and delight.

"Marvin feels really bad about what happened," says Kim Link, president of the Lebanon domestic duck and goose sanctuary where the couple resides. "He mounted her on land, instead of on water, and broke her wing."

Ducks, Kim explains, have safer sex on water. But Bee has obviously forgiven Marvin, her constant companion since she was rescued and brought here from an unsanitary hoarding situation.

Marvin is a Khaki Campbell duck and Bee is a Khaki Campbell-Indian Runner hybrid. They arrived separately at Majestic Waterfowl, a non-profit woodland sanctuary for abused and abandoned domestic ducks and geese. But when they leave for a permanent home, they will do so together.

No couples can be adopted separately, one of many Majestic rules designed to ensure royal treatment. Another rule is "No Free Range" adoptive homes, crucial because most domestic ducks and geese can't fly.

Domestics were bred heavier than their wild cousins, says Kim, because farmers "didn't want their meat and eggs to get away." Giving domestics free range leaves them defenseless against predators, so rather than doing the birds a favor, as many people assume, it sets them up to die.

Kim had ducks as a child growing up in nearby Scotland, and adopted two ducks when she and her husband, Tony, bought a house with eight acres in Lebanon. Tony, who grew up in Nevada, works at Electric Boat in Groton, while Kim is at present a stay-at-home mom to 10-year-old Isabel.

Kim got into the rescue business in 2004, after hearing that six Pekin ducks were stranded on Spaulding Pond at Mohegan Park in Norwich. White Pekins are the most popular domestic duck, and someone had probably bought these at Easter as cute little ducklings, then tired of them.

With winter looming, the pond would freeze and the ducks would likely get caught in the ice and starve. Kim took them home, including a lame duck she named Tiny Tim, and before the year's end found permanent homes for all.

With the help of Tony's carpentry skills, she went on to create a home-based, year-round, all-volunteer sanctuary currently home to 18 ducks (13 adoptable) and seven adoptable geese. Since 2004 they have rescued 180 ducks and geese.

Their annual operating budget, all funded by donations and their own contributions, is $10,000-$12,000. Total costs depend largely on veterinary care, especially since Majestic takes in only the most needy.

Waiting For Homes

Many of these birds have been awaiting adoption for several years. And many, like Bee and Marvin, are couples.

Take Piper and Mercy, both white Pekins. Piper, the male, was found as a duckling hiding from predators in a drainage pipe, caked in slime.

Mercy, abandoned on a pond, must have been a pet because "she came right in the house and wanted scraps from the table," says Kim. While table scraps are bad for ducks, clearly "someone had loved her."

Sadly, says Kim, longtime pets suffer the most psychological damage when abandoned, because they are imbedded to humans. Restoring these birds to health is doubly hard, because "it's like their mother gave them away."

Americans fretting over their own health care might well be envious after touring Majestic's facilities, which include sloped banks so older and "special needs" birds can easily get in and out of the many ponds.

"I know who everybody is here," says Kim, but to guard against identity mix-ups if she is absent, each bird wears a colored ribbon that matches up to a biography, including mate, and medical chart.

Five outdoor enclosures contain multiple neatly constructed wooden houses, each with a brass plaque by the door honoring the donor or someone the donor chose. One is informally dubbed "The Jesus House."

The houses aren't insulated, says Kim, because body heat and breath keep occupants warm in winter. But she learned the hard way to raise the houses on platforms so snow won't block the doors.

Predators from land and sky pose a constant threat. To protect against hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and roaming dogs, solar powered electric fencing covers the sanctuary's top perimeter, and the cement base of the land fence reaches 4 feet beneath the ground.

Kim says she loves all wildlife, but "I won't have them hurting these babies." If a hawk or owl gets zapped on the electric fence, she says, "I just hope he lives and tells all his friends about it."

Water is the essential feature here, and to keep it flowing a 33-by-72-foot courtyard has both a stream and a 33-by-20-foot spring-fed cement pond. A three-tiered 25-by-35-foot garden area has three stream-fed cement ponds.

Then there's the décor.

"Grass, lily pads, reeds, cattails along with a variety of other non-toxic plants and flowers are planted inside and around the pens to give the ducks and geese a quiet and secluded retreat during their stay with us," boasts Majestic's website.

Educating The Public

Kim emphasizes that Majestic is not a place to unload your unwanted pet. There are other options, like Petfinder.com, for that. And she can't accept any wild ducks or geese, because it's illegal to keep wild birds in Connecticut unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

Right now, with renovations underway, no new birds are being accepted at Majestic. But "so much of what we do is really helping people," says Kim, by answering questions via their website. "I've had questions from Africa, Europe, Asia —- every continent except Antarctica."

She is also the author of "ultimate" guidebooks for ducks and geese, available via her website, that together have sold over 1,000 copies.

Wondering how to tell a duck from a goose, a male from a female (the girls are generally louder, to call their ducklings)? Or why your duck suddenly appears to have changed its gender (don't worry, this can't happen)? Ask Kim.

Wonder why it's easier to rescue a goose than a duck? Kim will explain that ducks "know they are prey animals, so they are afraid of everything," while "geese are brave, and will check you out rather than run away."

Kim believes Majestic is New England's only non-profit sanctuary exclusively devoted to domestic ducks and geese. Her website links to similar groups around the country, plus offers services like a nationwide "Vetfinder."

Finding small animal vets who are comfortable treating domestic birds is a challenge, but Majestic has found two. Cyndi Brown of New England Veterinary Medical Center in Mystic, a Board Certified Avian Specialist, says Kim and Tony Link "treat all their birds like their own pets."

"They always want to do the right thing," says Christopher Otka of Noank-Mystic Veterinary Hospital, who sees a bird from Majestic about once a month. It was Otka who treated "Ms. Bee's" injuries, and on Oct. 5 he was finally able to remove the wires from her wing.

That means just a few more weeks before Bee and Marvin finally get clearance for a long-sought, splashy intimate reunion.

More information on Majestic Waterfowl here.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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