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It doesn’t matter where you go, one problem is almost universal for outdoor water; ducks.

They love clean water, abundant grass and protection. Public pools have treated water, parkland surrounding “the pond” and a 1.8m fence keeping predators at bay. So it should be no surprise that ducks, given the choice, will pick the pool over the river every time. Add drought into the equation and a couple can turn into fifty in the course of just a few nights.

The problem for us of course, is we arrive in the morning to a mountain of duck crap right around the pool and taking the blankets off threatens to turn the deep end into a swirling duck poo soup. It takes hours to clean up and tomorrow morning… it’s all back again.

And you’ve tried it all; catch and relocate, decoy hawks and owls, predatory callers at night, products that change the surface tension of the water. You’ve even left the dog at the pool overnight. Another trick is to alter the environment every few nights. Ducks flying in to land will survey the area first. A moving automatic cleaner, a row of empty acid containers or a couple of strands of red and white barrier tape across the pool can be enough to deter them, but only for a few nights. Out of sheer frustration some will, no doubt, try poisoning and lethal trapping; both illegal.

In my previous job one of our pools was copping a particular hiding, very night. The smell was offensive, complaints from swimmers were through the roof, and payroll was killing us, as we rostered extra staff to clean up each morning. We’d exhausted all the legal options and the problem persisted.

After mentioning the situation to a colleague he mentioned a licenced shooting contractor who was doing work around other commercial facilities in our area. He said he could help us. That was until he realised our ducks were the infamous Australian Wood Duck; protected by law. We’d need to get written permission from the NSW Parks & Wildlife Service.

Now I don’t know about you, but the mere mention of having to deal with one of these bureaucracies never lifts my confidence.

So I phoned them and surprisingly the officer was quite supportive and arranged to meet me on site the next day. After 30 minutes on site discussing the problem I realised this guy was never going to sign the permit I needed. He was anti everything. I’d been nice, I’d been polite, I’d explained all the things we’d tried and expense we’d gone to over the past 4 months. At the end of our meeting I pulled out my last Ace card. If this didn’t work, I was beat. I calmly said;

“That’s ok… I’m just concerned we’re on the edge of a major cryptosporidium outbreak amongst our swimmers and I just want to be able to front the newspaper and say, with my hand on my heart, that I tried every available option, even talking to the NSW Parks & Wildlife Service about eradication.”

He must have felt suitably boxed in because before he left he agreed that if I exhausted all the options one more time with no effect, he’d sign the permit. Hallelujah! I couldn’t believe it.

So I went back to the office to develop our next step… we’d need to dot every “i” and cross every ‘t’ if this was going to work. We’d need a thorough risk assessment; having a contract shooter at a pool certainly comes with some challenging risks.

As part of that I did some minor research into the Australian Wood Duck and then tried to put it into the context of our problem. It was during this time that I realised that we mightn’t be able to restrict their access to our clean water or grass but we could sure give their sense of safety a shake-up.

So I sent an email to all the pool staff (we had 30 casual lifeguards);

“Who wants to spend all night at the pool with a friend and get paid their hourly rate and get the next day off?”

I had plenty of keen volunteers. “What’s the catch?” they said.

“No duck is allowed to land inside our fence line without all-out war being declared. I don’t care if you bring your dog, tennis balls, slingshots or boomerangs, but no duck must be allowed to land without being continually harassed until they leave.”

I had more volunteers!

We did it for two nights in a row and then one night the following week just for good measure. And it worked. Our problem went away virtually overnight… well over two nights. It did cost $1500 but was around the same amount the contractor was going to cost anyway.

Ducks tend to travel on dusk and once they’ve found a secure place for the night they roost. They rarely travel after dark. Accordingly, staff reported that their night started busy but quietened down as midnight approached and then started up again on dawn.

To date this is the only option I’ve seen work for an extended period. If you’ve had other successes, please let me know. Poolies across Australia are waiting to hear from you.