For years and years, young children in the family have thoroughly enjoyed outings to ponds, rivers and lakes with their parents or grandparents to “feed the ducks”.
And of course what do you take along as food but some left over bread from the bread bin. For many people, feeding ducks and geese with bread at the local lake are some of their earliest and happy memories, connecting with nature, water and wild life.
There was just one drawback...
Unfortunately bread was doing much more harm than good
In the UK for example, every year over 6 million loaves of bread are thrown into their canals and rivers by well-intentioned people feeding the ducks.
Here are some of the bad things that can happen
- The most common items fed to ducks and waterfowl are also the least nutritious and most unhealthy. Along with bread, you can include crackers, popcorn and similar bread-type products. Although brown bread is marginally better than white, bread as a whole has little nutritional value. Just as refined, starchy food can make us humans lethargic, unhealthy and often overweight, these foods can affect waterfowl in the same way.
- Feeding lots of bread can create overcrowding of bird populations, as the birds will flock to the same location in search of their starchy treat.
- Too much of this type of feeding can lead to nutritional disease and an increased susceptibility to infectious disease. In park lakes, streams and rivers, birds can become hooked on bread, preferring it to proper food and bulking them out.
- Too many ducks or waterfowl in one place can stress the birds and lead to their habitats being damaged.
- Excessive amounts of bird droppings can make it smelly and slippery underfoot, impairing water quality and creating harmful algae which can clog the waterway.
- If the birds miss out on their essential nutrients, they can develop 'Angel Wing' which is an incurable growth in the last joint of the wing that limits their ability to flee or even make them flightless. They become literally 'sitting ducks'.
- When they are fed regularly, the birds might continue to stay in the same area beyond the time when they should be migrating. This puts them at extra risk.
- Food thrown into the water, but not eaten, can also cause difficulties with nutrient build-up in the water, especially in closed water like ponds and lakes.
- When there are young around, such food can harm ducklings’ growth.
- Waste food lying around can attract rodents and other pests.
- Any spoiled or moldy food should also be avoided as different types of mold can even be fatal to waterfowl.
But there are many other foods to feed to ducks, geese and swans
- You can obtain specialist 'water bird food' from pet stores and garden centers which should be fed only in moderation.
- Suitable items from your own kitchen include grated cheese, cooked potatoes, cooked rice, breakfast cereals or frozen vegetables.
- Flapjacks, rolled oats and even instant porridge oats will be a huge hit with ducks.
- Other suggestions are cooked lentils, pearl barley or split peas or tinned, frozen or fresh sweetcorn (no need to cook).
- Rip unwanted lettuce into pieces as a popular treat as well as grapes and strawberries, vegetable trimmings or peels (chopped).
- Earthworms or meal worms (fresh or dried).
- Duck feed pellets can be purchased from farming or agricultural supply stores.
Adding such foods to their diet (in very small limited amounts) will ensure safe extra nutrition and energy for the ducks and other water fowl especially when they are busy nesting and then feeding their young.
Other tips for feeding ducks, geese and swans include
- Stop feeding if the birds appear uninterested or are leaving the food uneaten, and avoid feeding the birds if other visitors are already offering treats.
- No matter what foods you provide, only offer foods in bite-sized pieces the birds can easily consume without choking or struggling.
- Be wary of birds that approach closely and remember that they can still be aggressive, particularly larger waterfowl such as swans and geese.
- Litter can hurt birds in many ways, so be sure to dispose of all trash properly, including bags, twist ties and unsuitable scraps.
- Do not allow pets or children to chase or disturb the birds, particularly young birds or families that could become stressed or injured more easily.
By knowing what to feed ducks as part of a nutritious and responsible diet, anyone can enjoy this activity without inadvertently harming their favorite waterfowl.
The natural diet of waterfowl is grain, seeds, small plants and insects such as earthworms and meal worms. Most of these foods are found in the water-based habitats in which they live and wild waterfowl, being expert foragers, have little difficulty fending for themselves. But where such water birds are close to civilization, we have developed the habit of feeding them, increasing their dependence on us for sustenance, blunting their survival instincts and inhibiting their inclination towards migration.
Should we be feeding them at all?
If we really cared enough for the environment, we would avoid feeding waterfowl altogether.
Every living thing has a species-specific diet and one which will give them ultimate health and their best chance of survival. There are always alternatives but these should be saved for exceptional times
when the ultimate diet is restricted or unavailable.
If you and your family care about wild life and the environment, it might well be time to re-think your habits and consider changing your ways.