Fluffy chicks and ducklings are popular Easter gifts—they're adorable, soft and irresistible, but they're not always an appropriate gift choice. While spring and Easter cards, children's books and toys tell a sweet story of fluffy chicks, they fail to tell the whole story of these real, live birds and why they should never be given as holiday gifts.
Chicks and Ducklings as Pets
Chicks and ducklings are not novelty toys, they are live, domestic birds that require special care and dedication to keep as pets.
Unless you are experienced in keeping livestock or plan to raise the birds for food, it is important to realize that they require both indoor shelter and outdoor exercise areas. Ducklings also require a safe location for swimming. Both of these birds have special requirements for feeding that a typical pet store cannot meet, and they will also need appropriate care from an agricultural veterinarian experienced with farm birds.
If you are prepared to meet the bird's needs to keep it as a pet, first check local zoning regulations. Many cities consider chickens and ducks to be livestock rather than pets, and they may not be permitted in residential zones. Then, investigate the breeds of chickens and ducks available to be sure you are choosing one that you can properly care for throughout its life — these birds quickly outgrow the cute, "Easter" stage and will live for years. If you are not willing to make the commitment for the bird's lifetime, it is best to avoid becoming involved with animals you cannot handle.
When sweet, peeping chicks are offered for sale each spring, many would-be buyers don't realize the hazards that Easter chicks and ducklings can present, particularly to the young children they may be given to as gifts. These small birds have sharp talons and bills, and they can easily scratch and bite.
The more dangerous threat, however, is salmonella contamination.
Salmonella is a bacterial disease that can be spread through the feces of chicks and ducklings, as well as through contaminated water. When these birds preen, the bacteria can be spread over all their plumage, and simply holding or petting them can transfer the bacteria to humans. The disease causes a range of symptoms, including diarrhea, fever, aches, nausea and abdominal cramps lasting for 5-7 days. While hospitalization for salmonella infections is rare, the elderly and the very young are especially at risk, as is anyone with a compromised or suppressed immune system.
Avoiding any contact with chicks and ducklings is the easiest way to minimize the spread of salmonella. If you do handle these birds, even briefly, washing your hands thoroughly with an anti-bacterial soap immediately afterwards is necessary.
An Unfortunate End
Too many Easter chicks and ducklings are sold as gifts to people who succumb to the birds' cuteness but have no desire or intention to care for adult chickens and ducks. After a few days, children lose interest in the birds and the birds lose their appeal as demanding house guests, and they are often abandoned in local parks or fields to fend for themselves.
Unfortunately, these are domestic birds with no knowledge or experience at foraging or evading predators, and death is inevitable. Those that may survive become part of feral colonies of domestic and hybrid birds that cause problems for park cleanliness and native wildlife. Many cities have been faced with mandatory culls of the birds when the populations grow too large.
Easter chicks surrendered to animal shelters do not face better chances of survival. In the spring, many shelters and humane societies are overburdened with former gifts that have become unwanted chickens and ducks, and finding suitable homes for them can be a challenge. Many of the birds will eventually be euthanized because they are not adopted.
A Note About Dyes
One of the most bizarre practices surrounding Easter chicks and ducklings is dyeing the birds in bright colors to make them more appealing.
While many areas outlaw this practice, it is still possible to buy dyed chicks in the spring. The birds can be dyed in the egg when coloring is injected during incubation. The birds do not appear to be harmed by this practice, but there have been no extensive studies about the effects of the dye on chicks that are not fully developed. When the birds molt, the colored feathers are shed and their typical plumage colors return. Recent hatchlings may also be sprayed with bright or pastel colors that will eventually wear off, but could be ingested as the birds preen. The spraying process may also cause great stress to the birds.
The greater damage caused by dyeing these birds is that the bright colors turn them into a novelty item. This emphasizes the birds as a gift rather than a live pet, and encourages many people to make an uninformed purchase of a bird they will not want to care for when it is no longer pink, purple, blue or green.
Alternatives to Easter Chicks and Ducklings
Instead of giving a live bird that could be dangerous and requires a lifetime commitment of care, there are many more responsible alternative gifts to choose from, including:
- Toy chicks and ducklings, including plush or bathtub toys
- Chocolate and candy birds and eggs
- A visit to a reputable, educational petting zoo
- Spring or Easter-themed coloring books, storybooks or games
- A bird house or bird feeder to attract wild chicks
- Chick or duckling figurines or Easter-themed decor
- Seeds to grow in the spring
By understanding the needs of chicks and ducklings, you can decide if these birds truly are a good gift choice. This allows you to make a better decision about celebrating spring and Easter without harming birds or risking the potentially unpleasant effects of owning unwanted pets.