What could be nicer than spending a lovely afternoon by your local pond feeding the ducks? In fact, some studies suggest that watching the ducks may actually be good for you; the experience tends to reduce anxiety, which has great health benefits. It seems like a win-win situation: you relax and enjoy nature, while the hungry birds lap up some bread or cracker crumbs.
Sadly, tossing breadcrumbs doesn’t confer the same benefits on ducks that duck-watching may confer on humans. In fact, it can be quite harmful to them. Bread is composed mainly of empty carbohydrates without significant nutrients. White bread is the worst offender, but most of the other wheat- or corn-based foods we’re likely to feed ducks, such as crackers, cereal, donuts, and popcorn, can be pretty detrimental to their health. Ducks are omnivorous animals whose diets consist of natural plants and insect proteins. In very limited amounts, pieces of bread won’t harm them. But too much bread can have seriously nasty consequences.
Here are a few reasons why you should reconsider before tossing breadcrumbs at the adorable ducks in your local park:
1. Human Food Handouts Can Have A Detrimental Effect On Ducklings’ Development
In order to grow into healthy and self-sustaining ducks, baby ducks need to learn how to forage for healthy food in their natural habitats. If they simply eat whatever is thrown at them by well-meaning humans, they may be discouraged from foraging for their own food and instead opt for subsisting on a diet of breadcrumbs. This diet won’t provide them with the necessary nutrients they need to grow and can have disastrous health consequences down the line. In fact, baby ducks who don’t get their proper nutrition may suffer from a condition called angel wing, a deformity that makes flying very difficult or impossible. This disease is incurable, and leads to death.
2. Too Much Bread Can Make The Ducks Overweight
Bread is essentially junk food for ducks: mostly empty calories without any of the necessary ingredients that ducks need to survive and thrive. But ducks, like children and some adult humans, are all too happy to subsist on a diet of junk food, and might even start preferring that to going through the trouble of foraging for healthy food like plants and insects. Just as humans would if they ate a diet consisting of only junk food, if a duck eats too much bread, it will quickly grow overweight. This is not only inherently unhealthy for the duck, but it can also hamper the duck’s ability to fly and avoid predators.
3. Bread Handouts Can Lead To Duck Overcrowding Of Parks And Ponds
If lots of humans toss breadcrumbs in a particular park or pond, ducks are likely to react by congregating in that pond and laying more eggs in order to take advantage of the plentiful food available. The result is overcrowding, which can lead ducks to become aggressive with one another, fight for space, and also limit the supply of healthy food (that is, non-bread natural food sources) available to each duck.
4. Artificial (That Is, Human) Feedings Can Delay Or Disrupt Ducks’ Migration Patterns.
Ducks may be tempted to stay near a park or pond where they are likely to receive handouts from humans. This may lead them to ignore their natural instincts to migrate according to the seasons. As a result, they may stay in an area for too long and be trapped in cold and inhospitable weather during winter.
5. Breadcrumbs Can Go Bad Easily And Become Toxic To The Ducks
Ducks may not immediately catch all the crumbs that humans throw their way. If the bread is left out and goes rancid, it can quickly grow mold and become poisonous to the ducks that find it laying around later on. Rotting bread can also encourage the growth of algae, which disrupts natural patterns and may be harmful to other animals as well. The mold also attracts vermin, which again is harmful to the ducks and other animals.
The next time you get the urge to feed bread to the ducks at your local park or pond, take a moment to pause and reflect. As much as you think you’re doing the birds a favor, you may actually be causing them great harm. You, and they, are better off simply sitting back and watching from a distance, without getting any bread into the mix.