For educational value, hatching projects miss the mark

By John Di Leonardo 

After hearing from Humane Long Island and its international Duck Defenders project, St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School has pledged to end its 40-year tradition of hatching baby ducklings in classrooms. The last eleven ducklings hatched last week are being cared for at Humane Long Island’s Riverhead aviary while awaiting placement at vegan sanctuaries. Six of the plucky ducks will be adopted by Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, a 150-acre home for rescued farmed animals in High Falls, NY. The remaining five will live out their lives at Merrymac Farm Sanctuary, a 15-acre home for rescued farmed animals in Charlotte, VT. Most birds born in school are not so lucky.

Birds love their families, have complex social bonds, and value their lives, yet when used as classroom teaching tools, they’re denied everything that’s natural and important to them. Even before they’re born, baby birds need their mothers, who carefully rotate the eggs up to 30 times a day to maintain the proper temperature, moisture, and positioning. Those grown in an incubator can become sick and deformed as they develop, because their needs aren’t met during incubation.   

There are few humane ends for even the birds who survive these projects. Because possessing ducks and roosters are illegal in many municipalities, including New York City and most of Long Island, it is generally not an option for teachers and students to take in chicks/ducklings as companion animals or even find them good homes. Instead, most are sent back to suppliers, where they are often killed upon receipt because the hatcheries do not want pathogens from the school infecting their commercial flocks. This harsh reality is hidden from children who become attached to the developing baby animals. Birds are exempt from even the minimal protections of the Humane Slaughter Act and the Animal Welfare Act, so unwanted babies may be suffocated in trash bags or ground up alive in machines called macerators.  

Other birds, like quails or pheasants, may be intentionally released to the wild by well-meaning teachers under the guise of conservation efforts, however, being raised by children, not their parents, they are quickly killed by hunters or predators or die of exposure while disrupting ecosystems and threatening native and migratory birds with disease.  

Even when schools like St. John’s try to do the right thing, there are issues. Ducklings are flock animals and only thrive in groups. When given out individually to students after hatching projects, precocial species of birds, including ducklings and chicks, imprint on humans, permanently compromising their welfare. As a result, New York State law requires that baby birds not be given out in quantities less than six if they are under two months old, a law that the Suffolk County DA’s office takes seriously, making headlines working with Humane Long Island to charge three commercial poultry dealers for violating this law last month.    

Mother ducks begin teaching vocalizations to their babies before they even hatch. She quacks softly to them while sitting on the eggs, and they chirp back to her and to each other from inside their shells. Depriving animals of a chance to develop these sorts of bonds — for any reason — is unacceptable and negates the educational objective, which is presumably to develop a curiosity about and reverence for life.  

For educational value, hatching projects miss the mark. Thankfully, Humane Long Island offers free speaking engagements at all Long Island and New York City schools and can videoconference with students in other districts from afar. TeachKind also offers free lesson plans for teachers that also meet curricular objectives and save birds and our friends at Shanti Fund sponsor a wonderful Peace Artwork program at Long Island schools every year that fosters reverence for life rather than belittles it.   

For this week’s Anuvrat, I urge you to pledge to speak up whenever you hear about a school using baby birds as props and to contact me at [email protected] if you need help or a humane alternative for your community. As all the animals consumed in the U.S. are only babies when they’re slaughtered, you can also help save the lives of nearly 200 baby animals every year by keeping them and their products off your plate.   

John Di Leonardo is the founding director of Humane Long Island. He was previously the Senior Manager of Grassroots Campaigns and Animals in Entertainment Campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He has a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College. He also earned a graduate certificate in Jain Studies from the International School of Jain Studies (ISJS) in India. John can be reached at [email protected].

Images courtesy of Provided and eBaum’s World

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