LOS ANGELES — A fluffy duckling might seem a natural accompaniment to a basket of Easter eggs, but shelter officials and animal welfare experts want gift-happy parents to picture something else: poop.
The average domestic duck relieves itself every 15 minutes, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That's why very few people have ducks for pets — except at Easter.
Yet millions of people have or will celebrate spring and Easter by getting their children a duckling, figuring they can release it in a pond when it gets too big to keep at home.
"We usually get tons of calls right after Easter," said Susie Coston, national shelter director for the Farm Sanctuary.
Duck diapers are available online, but it takes more than that to raise a duck, said Carol Chrysong, the 56-year-old founder of The Lucky Duck Rescue & Sanctuary in Los Angeles.
The sanctuary is home to 120 ducks, including a drake and two hens that Chrysong keeps as her pets. The cleanup is exhausting, she said.
The upsides to keeping a duck as a pet include their surprisingly doglike behavior, which has them greeting owners upon arrival (Muscovy ducks even wag their tails), learning tricks and being extremely loyal, she said.
The downside, though, is cleaning up after a diaperless duck that also likes to get into water and splash — then walk around, Chrysong said. An indoor duck would have to sit on a poop mat and sleep in a playpen full of shavings.
Chrysong added that ducks are in heat as many as 10 months out of the year, so "if you don't want to have the sex talk with your child, don't get a duck."
Experts say that most ducklings sold at Easter are drakes, so parents hoping for fresh eggs are out of luck.
Coston discourages ducks as pets. They can live up to 20 years and more, she said, adding that it's unlikely a child can take the duck to college.
Parents often assume they can set a duck free at a local pond once it outgrows its duckling stage, but "domestic ducks are not equipped to survive in the wild like their wild cousins," she said.
They can't fly, their colors don't match the environment and they don't know how to act in the wild, "so they fall prey to many wild animals, dogs and, sadly, even people," she said.
In many cases, territorial ducks at a pond will kill newcomers.
Lydia Yasuda, a photographer from Diamond Bar, Calif., volunteers weekly at Lucky Duck after she took in her daughter's duckling. He had followed the girl around at a lake, and "we thought he could grow up, and we could take him to the pond," said Yasuda.
Then, the Yasudas started to read about caring for ducks. They live in an apartment, so Benji went to the duck rescue.
Chrysong said she herself fell in love with ducks at age 8, when she and her sister received ducks as Easter gifts.
"Those two ducks followed us all over Inglewood. They would wait outside when we took them to the store," she recalled.
When the ducks were 5, her parents released them at a pond, she said.
"It was devastating for me. They kept following us to the car. Eventually, my father said, 'Let's go,' and we left them there in the parking lot. I never got over it. Now, I know what happens to them. That's why I am so aggressive about the work we do," Chrysong said.
Parents with children who want a duck for Easter should visit a pet store or zoo instead, she said.