If Long Islanders want a bunny or a chick this Easter, they should stick to the ones made of chocolate or marshmallow, animal rescuers said.
Scores of domesticated bunnies and chicks purchased during the Easter season as gifts or seasonal props often end up neglected and abandoned in parks where their prospects for survival are dim, experts said.
Often, they say, people no longer want the animal when they realize how much work is needed to care for them. Sadly, in many cases, the novelty of having a fuzzy chick or cute bunny wears off as the creatures grow.
“The majority of these Easter ducks are going to get dumped and rabbits dumped all over Long Island,” said Bobby Horvath, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator with Massapequa-based Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation.
Many of the domesticated ducks that people buy as Easter gifts cannot fly, he said, and are not equipped to live in the wild. “Are they going to walk across Montauk Highway and search for open water?” Horvath asked. “It’s a tough life for them.”
The fluffy white rabbits purchased as Easter gifts are not the same as the wild brown-colored rabbits seen in the woods around Long Island, he said. People who release them into the woods are usually giving them a death sentence, he said.
“They are captive, bred domestic rabbits,” Horvath said. “They are raised in captivity and not designed to survive in the wild … many of them fall prey to predators.”
The lucky ones who can be captured by rescuers are fostered until they can find new homes or brought to municipal shelters where they can also be adopted out to the public.
Ducklings and chicks purchased on a whim during the spring can face an equally grim fate, said John Di Leonardo, an anthrozoologist and wildlife rehabilitator who leads the advocacy group Long Island Orchestrating for Nature.
Pekin ducks and runner ducks are domestic ducks and generally do not survive when dumped into ponds with other waterfowl, he said.
“They are as different from a wild duck as your house cat is from a tiger,” Di Leonardo said. “If you dump them in a lake somewhere … they are literally sitting ducks for predators.”
He said domesticated ducks, which have large bodies and small wings, cannot fly and are not able to find enough food by foraging.
“If they survive the winter, which is rare, they typically will freeze to the ice,” Di Leonardo said. “We get calls all the time in the winter about domestic ducks whose chest feathers froze to the ice.”
People who purchase chicks may not know whether the tiny bird will grow into a rooster or a hen. And roosters, with their early morning wake-up calls, are banned in many municipalities across Long Island.
Di Leonardo said he has responded to many calls in an effort to save roosters who were just tossed over fences by frustrated owners. He’s also seen hens let loose after owners don’t see them produce eggs right away.
“A lot of people don’t realize chickens do not lay eggs for six months,” he said. “You have to care for them and some people think ‘This is a lot of work and I haven’t gotten an egg.’”
Having chickens, like any animals, is a serious commitment requiring climate-controlled, predator-proof housing.
“Domestic ducks and chicks are not Easter photo props and they are not trash to be discarded when you don’t want them anymore,” Di Leonardo said. “Abandoning them is cruel and illegal. It’s as cruel as abandoning a dog or a cat.”