Jail-bird ducks released by Suffolk sheriff


Employees at Riverhead Correctional Facility bid adieu to a few feathery friends on Tuesday.

For the third year in a row, a mother duck found a safe haven beneath the towering brick facility that holds hundreds of Suffolk County’s inmates.

A pond built for koi fish in the staff courtyard became the unexpected habitat for the duck and her ducklings.

“This is probably the only time we’re gonna let anyone go free from our jail without anyone being compromised,” Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. joked.

The 15 eggs were hidden so well that staff did not realize they returned until the ducklings peeped.

Now, at four weeks old, the ducklings have warmed up to one staff member, in particular: a.k.a, the one who feeds them. The facility has passed the task on to Dixie Gunter, from the pistol license bureau, who named the mother duck Velma.

“For a while, she had a male duck with her, but he flew the coop,” Gunter said. 

“She’s back on Bumble [social media app],” social media coordinator Bryan Stoothoff said with a laugh.

With a little help from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the ducks were transported to the Peconic River.


The diversion helps to break up the routine at the facility, with staff and officers anticipating Velma’s return next spring.

“In a stressful environment like this, it gives you a different perspective of life because, you know, the officers come in, do a lot of overtime, deal with some of the worst people, people who have fallen down and we’re trying to help them up,” Toulon said.

The moment is nature’s own parallel of what staff hopes for in the Riverhead inmates. 

“It’s a little bit of a nice change, to watch them grow and now they’re ready to take off on their own,” Toulon said.

Inside view of the staff courtyard at the jail.
The Peconic River is the longest on Long Island, stretching about 8 miles from Calverton to Riverhead. Photo by Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Riverhead Correctional Facility.
Staff from Riverhead Correction Facility were assisted by the D.E.C in trapping and releasing the ducks. Photo by Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Riverhead Correctional Facility.