Mighty Ducks Combat Invasive Vineyard Pests

More than 1,000 Indian Runner ducks patrol 57-hectares of a South African winery in search of ravenous snails.

Morning sun shines on vineyards at the Vergenoegd wine estate near Cape Town, South Africa, May 20, 2016. Each day, a quack squad of killer ducks are released for the first of two sorties at South Africa's Vergenoegd wine farm in Stellenbosch. Their mission - seek and destroy thousands of pests out to ruin the season's harvest. MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters
A farmworker carries a box of Runner Duck wine past barrels at the Vergenoegd wine estate on May 20. "Before we had the ducks we had to put down snail bait, a pesticide. But, for the past nine years I have been here we've used very little snail bait, almost nothing, because the ducks eat all the snails and other insects," said Marlize Jacobs, vintner and horticulturalist. MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters
A line of Indian Runner Ducks walk past farm buildings at the Vergenoegd wine estate on May 18. Fanning out across the vineyards, some 1,000 Indian Runner ducks hone in on their hidden targets with uncanny precision, locating the tiny white dune snails feasting on budding vines. MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters
Indian Runner ducks walk through a vineyard at the Vergenoegd wine estate on May 16. Used for centuries in Asia to control pests, the ducks stand upright like penguins and are slim enough to fit between rows of vines. And they do not waddle, they run. MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters

An Indian Runner duck dries off after a swim at the vineyard on May 18. Parading on the farm each day, the soldier-like birds are guided by a herder and can clear snails from between half a hectare and a whole hectare a day. Besides fungal diseases, the snails are the main threat to vines at the farm.

The flock, which started with six ducks in 1983, gives Vergenoegd extra points in the wine industry's sustainability certification process as the 57-hectare vineyard now uses so little chemicals it does not need to declare them, Jacobs said. MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters
A group of Indian Runner ducks march past farm buildings at the Vergenoegd wine estate on May 11. "All over the industry and all over the world, dangerous harmful pesticides are being fazed out, so I believe one day you will be forced to use alternative methods because pesticides kill all insects, even the friendly insects," Jacobs said. MIKE HUTCHINGS / Reuters