A photo of a sign posted in a UK park, encouraging people to feed the ducks with bread, inspired an online debate. However, a wildlife organization warns people that, if they are not careful, the practice might do more harm than good.
Is it safe to feed the ducks with bread?
While many of us look forward to spending a day in the park, watching our children tossing small chunks of stale bread to the ducks, one wildlife organization discourages this practice.
Namely, no matter how much they seem to enjoy the little treats, we need to be extra careful, as might do more harm than good. Bread is apparently not a part of the healthy diet they should be given.
So, let us learn: what should we give to these beautiful birds if we should feed them in the first place? Several years ago, a sign posted at a park in the UK, inspired an online debate.
“It’s ok to feed us bread! Everyone has stopped feeding us bread because they wrongly think it will make us poorly and now some of us are dying of starvation without your bread! Yes, it’s not the healthiest for us, but nothing in our bellies will kill us!”
The photo of the sign garnered thousands of likes and comments. On the other hand, other people shared the completely opposite advice, claiming that bread can make the ducks ill.
Please feed the ducks pic.twitter.com/OIaGhzmsY2
— Sammy j williams (@Sammyjwilliams3) October 17, 2019
Therefore, back in 2015, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds decided to provide the right answer.
Their spokesperson explained:
“Just like us, birds need a varied diet to stay healthy. Although ducks and swans can digest all types of bread, too much can leave them feeling full without giving them all of the important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they need.”
The Canal and River Trust added that bread is essentially “junk food” for ducks, adding:
“Try to vary what you give them and swap it for healthier more natural treats like oats, corn, or defrosted frozen peas. And exercise portion control.”
One of the main problems of this practice is the fact that the high-carb handout in the form of bread can cause a loss in natural behavior since it disrupts their natural instincts. In this way, young ducklings might not learn how to forage for food.
Plus, white bread is low in nutrients, which might leave the ducks malnourished, but will cause weight gain. Too heavy ducks will in turn become slower and unable to escape predators.
An overabundance of high-calorie food can also lead to overcrowding, which can cause aggression and an increase in predators.
Furthermore, the leftovers of the breads can pollute waterways. In Wales and England alone, people feed an estimated six million loaves of bread to the ducks every year.
The uneaten bread rots and thus stimulates the growth of algae, which takes over other plants that ducks usually eat, leading to an unhealthy balance within the ecosystem.
Overfeeding in ducks can have other negative effects as well, since it causes them to poop more often. The composition of this excrement is significantly different from that of a duck who has been foraging naturally, so it does not break down the same way in the environment and might cause diseases.
Namely, the consumption of moldy bread can lead to a fatal lung infection called aspergillosis, while a leftover rotting bread can attract other unwanted pests like rats and mice.
Ducks fed a high-carb, high-protein diet of mostly bread can develop a dangerous condition called “angel wing”, which prevents them from flying. This deformity makes their end feathers stick out sideways instead of flat against their bodies.
Therefore, what are the better alternatives to bread?
The natural diet of ducks involves algae, aquatic plants, snails, small fish and fish eggs, insects, small amphibians, worms, crustaceans, berries, fruits, and nuts.
The campaign by The Canal River Trust advises feeding ducks with frozen peas and sweet corn.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) agreed that it is important to give the ducks the right foods:
“Bread in itself is not the best food to give waterfowl as it fills them up without giving them the nutrients they need. We recommend people instead give small amounts of grain such as wheat, corn, or birdseed, plus fresh chopped greens like cabbage or spinach, as these will supplement the birds’ natural diet and help provide the birds with the necessary nutrients to keep them healthy.”
Yet, as we love feeding the ducks, we can still feed them, in moderation, with healthier foods that are closer to their natural diet, and thus continue to connect and interact with wildlife.
So, here are our options: cracked corn, barley, oats or other grain, grapes( cut in half), frozen peas or corn, chopped lettuce and other greens, mealworms, earthworms, chopped fresh food scraps, and seeds.
Remember, it would be absolutely fine not to feed them at all, or at least practice portion control. You are not the only one willing to give them food, and they might stop foraging for themselves and lose their instincts.