DUNEDIN — The duck war of Lazy Lake began with a hiss.
Residents here couldn't agree whether the Muscovy ducks dotting their neighborhood were gifts or pests, and over weeks of the ducks' hissing and pooing and waddling, the neighbors drew sides.
Some said they looked cute splashing in the curb puddles. Others said they could spread chlamydia. They began to accuse each other of feeding the ducks or shooting at them or feeding them to dogs.
The neighborhood seemed torn on everything but this: The ducks, they said, were everywhere.
Yet, what in recent weeks was a wild horde of about 80, some flying in from outside Lazy Lake, now seems restrained to a few dozen. So where did the ducks go? It's a question neither the city, nor the trapper it hired, seem too excited to answer.
Vergil Morgan said he baited about 60 of them with bread and cracked corn, then caged them in the back of his truck and drove them to Brooksville.
From there, the red-faced waterfowl were put in a 3,000-square-foot cage with a concrete swimming pool, where they await the clipping of their flying feathers. Then, once acclimated to the new environment, they are to be released onto a 30-acre farm.
"It's done," he said recently after trapping most of the flock. "They're happy little ducks."
Morgan won't say which farm or what happens after that, though the neighborhood's duck lovers and an animal rights group think they'll end up butchered. An ad Morgan published on BestFarmBuys.com for free ducks, they said, was evidence the ducks were sent to slaughter.
"Residents have been misled to believe that the ducks trapped in Dunedin will enjoy a happy life on a farm," Animal Rights Foundation of Florida president Nanci Alexander wrote in a letter to city leaders. "The truth is that trapped Muscovy ducks often are quickly killed or the birds end up at auctions to be sold for food."
The ducks' meat is a delicacy in Latin America, where they originated, and can sell for around $49 a breast, Morgan said. A case of 10 hatchlings can earn $350. And outside of three counties in Texas, according to federal law, the ducks are regarded as invasive non-natives that "may be killed, in any number, at any time or place, by any means except shooting."
City development director Greg Rice, who has heard from several locals worried sick over the ducks, said officials didn't try to give the idea that the ducks wouldn't end up on a plate.
"We never put out any kind of message that this might not be the case," he said. "We're not purposely misleading people."
A federal wildlife regulators' rule revised last month states that the ducks can't be moved or used for anything but "food production."
That didn't stop people from responding en masse to Morgan's ad for free ducks. Calls came in from Wyoming and Montana. Someone wanted a dozen in Hawaii. A family in the Virgin Islands wanted two for Easter.
But to save himself the trouble of shipping, Morgan decided on Brooksville, though he left some of the flock, including about 15 ducklings and their mother, in Lazy Lake. At a cost of $18 a duck plus a $285 trap cost, the city paid Morgan $1,329.
Duck lovers say that won't mark the end of the neighborly tension. The eggs left there will hatch if not shaken or frozen, birthing a new generation of ducks — and a new phase of what resident Trudy Koch called an all-out "war."
"People tell these tales about Muscovy ducks spreading disease, but they don't really do anything beyond messing up peoples' walkways," animal rights group spokesman Nick Atwood said. "It's annoying, but I don't think it should be a death sentence."
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.