Ducks are something that wildlife organizations around the world have been warning us for years and not decades. Organizations like the British Canal and River Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have been doing everything they can to educate the public that bread is very harmful to ducks and other wildlife birds found in cities.
Their efforts haven’t been in vain, of course, as more and more people are becoming aware of the damage they are doing to bird populations by feeding them bread. Yet, most still remain unaware of the issue. In 2015, in the UK, it was estimated that ~6 million loaves of bread were getting fed to ducks in arks every year. Similar figures are estimated elsewhere around Europe and one can only imagine what these numbers look like in the U.S.
So, why is bread so harmful to birds like ducks?
The short answer is that bread is bad for birds for the same reason it’s bad for many of us – it’s not nutritious enough. However, a more complete answer would be that bread is even worse for birds than it is for us for the following reasons:
- It’s not their natural food. Bread can be ok for most humans in small doses but is much worse for ducks and other birds – they just haven’t evolved to sustain themselves on a diet of bread.
- It pushes all other foods out of their diets. While even the biggest junk-food-addicts among us know that we should eat at least something nutritious with our bread, birds don’t have that knowledge and self-awareness. So, it’s common for ducks and other birds in parks to switch on a 100% bread diet and not eat anything else. Needless to say, this is devastating for their health, longevity, and the long-term future of their species.
- The bread we give birds prevents them from learning how to forage for themselves. This means that when they don’t have access to bread for one reason or another (say, just for example, a prolonged social isolation among people due to a global pandemic), the birds don’t know how to find their own food and often starve to death. This is why not feeding ducklings with anything is better than giving them bread as they can then learn to forage for themselves while they’re still young.
- Bread also attracts pests and predators such as rats, and it leads to the growth of mold and harmful algae that often makes the ducks sick.
- A high-carb bread diet has even been found to cause a wing deformity in ducks called “angel wing” or “airplane wing”. The deformity is characterized by the end feathers on their wings sticking sideways instead of staying flat against the body. This condition doesn’t just make flying difficult for ducks but makes it outright impossible. In other words – bread can cripple ducks by denying them the ability to fly.
What are the alternatives?
So, we shouldn’t give bread to ducks, ok – but what are the alternatives? Surely it’s not ok to just let them starve either, right? While it’d be better to let ducks re-learn to fend for themselves rather than feed them bread, there are indeed other options. After all, the ducks appreciate being fed and it’s fun for our kids too. So, organizations like the RSPB and the Canal and River Trust recommend the following foods:
- Frozen but raw peas and pea shoots – just let them thaw after you’ve got them from the store and give them to the ducks. You can either throw it to them as you would with bread crumbs or put them in a bowl and feed the ducks that way.
- Sweet corn – this great option is perfectly natural for ducks and just as fun to feed them with. You can use canned, frozen, or fresh corn, whichever you prefer.
- Oats are something that should be given in moderation as they’re not highly nutritious for ducks but they’re still better than bread. You can give ducks rolled, steel-cut, or instant oats, they’ll love them either way.
- Rice, either cooked or uncooked, should also be given in moderation like the oats, but it’s still a substantially better option than bread.
- Bird seeds or seeds of most other kinds from the health food market. This is a budget-friendly and a perfectly healthy alternative to bread.
- Lettuce or cabbage are other great natural options with kale being a particular favorite to most ducks.
All of these foods are significantly better than bread but, at the end of the day, neither of them should be given in excess – it’s important for ducks to also eat according to their natural diets which consist of algae, worms, aquatic plants, small fish and fish eggs, snails, berries, insects, and other foods naturally found in the wilderness.
Or, as a spokesperson for the Canal and River Trust puts it: “The charity is asking the public to make a few simple changes. Bread isn’t great for a duck’s health as it’s nothing like their natural diet, so don’t over feed them with large quantities of it.
“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.”