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— The problem first started several years ago, says Marriott's director of engineering, Tony Del Rios, when "we had a big influx of coots [a common type of black waterfowl, smaller than most ducks] that migrated in at night and were eating all the grass, turning the grassy areas to mud." Tweed does keep the fowl under some control and their numbers low, Del Rios says. Contradicting the story told by Perez, however, Del Rios insists that when the ducks' young are present, Tweed is not allowed off his leash to run free.

Employees around the Marriott say that once ducks are born on hotel property, they tend to make it their permanent home. A stroll around the grounds reveals about a dozen ducks, most of which seem to be mallards, in and around five or six ponds. Last summer the four ducklings Roger Perez saw were the only young ones in sight. He thinks that during nesting a female duck sits on more eggs than 4, a fact confirmed by a mallard website that puts the number at between 5 and 13. He also remembers seeing many more ducks during the short time he spent at the Meridien ten years ago and wonders how the Marriott now keeps their numbers down. But one Marriott employee said he thinks the Meridien used to give people bread to feed the ducks.

There is another duck at the Marriott that is nearly identical to the female Perez saw with her ducklings. Both of the mature ducks are black with white patches at the base of their necks, which resemble a bib. That makes it less likely that they are mallards, though the shapes of their bodies make them look similar. A breed called "black duck" shows that it isn't as dark as the Marriott's black-colored ducks. Also, black ducks are native to the eastern seaboard of the United States and are not found in the west.

After getting out her bird book, Ann Wright, a bird watcher and volunteer at the Audubon Society, addresses the black ducks' mysterious identity. "Mallards interbreed a lot," she says, "and that produces all sorts of unusual results." She thinks that the black color of two ducks at the Marriott probably has come from a number of generations of mallards staying and interbreeding there. "Those ducks," she continues, "are not migrating here now. The migrating season is over."

Is it legal for the Marriott to chase ducks off with a dog? A spokesman at the California Department of Fish and Game sees no problem with it. California law permits owners to protect their property from nuisance animals by herding them away (a border collie avocation), especially where they cause "depredation." On the other hand, the 1918 federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to harass ducks, especially when they are nesting or caring for their young. But if some ducks have grown up at the resort instead of migrating in, then perhaps the Marriott is justified in pursuing its current policy.

Roger Perez, meanwhile, says that he's not done with the issue. "I have been considering contacting some of the people that we knew at Project Wildlife," he says, "to find out whether they would intervene. They rescue injured or trapped animals. And these animals are definitely in danger. The most disturbing thing is that these are ducklings, and they can't fend for themselves."

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