Should You Feed Ducks Bread?

(DUCKS) Feeding the ducks has long been considered a fun family activity that is a good way to introduce children to the wonders of animals, but could that bread you are feeding the birds actually be harmful for them? Find out what ducks should be eating. — Global Animal

About.Com, Melissa Mayntz

Many birders were first introduced to the joys of avian wildlife by feeding ducks bread at a local park or pond. While we may have grown up thinking this was an environmentally responsible and humane way to dispose of old or stale bread, feeding the ducks is actually unhealthy and potentially dangerous for the birds.

What Bread Is to Ducks

Bread and similar products such as crackers, chips, donuts and popcorn are a great source of carbohydrates but they offer little other nutritional value for ducks, waterfowl and other birds. In fact, bread is the equivalent to junk food for the birds, and too much bread can lead to excessive weight and malnutrition as well as many other problems.

Offered in extreme moderation, bread is not harmful to ducks or birds, but that moderation is hard to judge. While one family may only feed the ducks once every few weeks, there are many other families and individuals who are also feeding the ducks, which leads to a diet based almost solely on unhealthy bread products. Environmentally conscious birders will refrain from offering any bread to ducks to avoid dietary problems and other issues caused by a carbohydrate rich diet.

Why Bread is Bad for Ducks

Not only can bread be fattening to ducks and make it harder for them to fly and otherwise evade predators, feeding ducks bread can also lead to other problems.

  • Duckling Malnutrition: In an area where ducks are regularly fed bread, ducklings will not receive adequate nutrition for proper growth and development. Furthermore, because ducks will naturally seek out an easy food source such as human handouts, ducklings will not learn to forage for natural foods as easily.
  • Overcrowding: Where an easy food source is abundant, ducks and other waterfowl will lay more eggs and the pond or lake will become overcrowded. This makes it more difficult for the birds to seek out healthier food sources and increases the likelihood of territorial aggression.
  • Pollution: When too much bread is offered to ducks, not all of it will be eaten. The soggy, uneaten bread is unsightly and rotting bread can create noxious odors as well as lead to greater algae growth that can clog natural waterways. This concentrates the pollution and can eventually eradicate fish and other life in the vicinity.
  • Diseases: Feeding ducks bread can increase the spread of diseases in two ways. First, a carbohydrate-rich diet leads to greater defecation, and bird feces easily harbor bacteria responsible for numerous diseases, including avian botulism. Second, moldy bread can cause aspergillosis, a fatal lung infection that can decimate entire duck and waterfowl flocks.
  • Pest Attraction: Rotting supplies of food leftover from sated ducks will attract other unwelcome pests such as rats, mice and insects. These pests can also harbor additional diseases that can be dangerous to humans.
  • Loss of Natural Behavior: When birds become accustomed to handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive in order to get more food. Their loss of fear can also cause other dangers, such as a willingness to cross busy roads in order to reach picnickers and other likely sources of food. There is also some evidence that regular handouts can interrupt the birds’ natural migration instincts because they believe the food source will be readily available all year.

Bread Alternatives

Wild ducks and waterfowl can live longer, healthier lives by relying on natural food sources such as aquatic plants, seeds, grasses and insects rather than taking handouts from well-meaning humans. If you still want to feed the ducks – and doing so can be an enchanting experience – there are many healthier alternatives to offer them instead of bread. Great choices include:

  • Grapes cut in half
  • Cracked corn, barley, oats, birdseed or other grains
  • Frozen peas that have been defrosted
  • Duck feed pellets available from farm supply stores

Don’t Waste Bread

For many people, feeding ducks bread is not only a way to interact with wildlife, but it is also a handy way to dispose of old, stale or moldy bread. There are many other useful ways to dispose of unwanted bread, however, including…

  • Adding bread to a compost pile to create natural mulch and fertilizer
  • Trying stale bread recipes such as bread pudding or homemade dressing and stuffing
  • Toasting stale bread for homemade croutons or garlic toast

Of course, the best way to use up stale bread without feeding it to ducks is to avoid having any leftover bread in the first place. Bread can be easily frozen until needed, or birders can monitor their menus and shopping to ensure there are no leftover products that would be tempting to feed to ducks.