For many people, their first interaction with ducks is feeding them at a pond or local park. Even though it is a common occurrence, feeding wild waterfowl has sparked much debate amongst bird lovers, duck experts, and city officials. One such cause of concern is what not to feed ducks.
Far too often, people jump into feeding ducks without first finding out what is safe and not safe for these birds to consume. This can lead to serious consequences, including unhealthy ducts and even polluted waterways. Thankfully, learning what not to feed ducks goes a long way to protecting these wild birds and keeping them healthy.
What Not To Feed Ducks
Feeding ducks is a fun pastime that can give you a chance to enjoy nature while helping out the ducks with a little food. Unfortunately, your good intentions could actually harm the ducks you are trying to help. That is why it is important to familiarize yourself with what not to feed ducks (or swans or geese).
People have long used bread as their go-to food for ducks. In recent years, however, we have learned just how bad bread is for these birds.
While bread won’t cause immediate harm to ducks, it doesn’t provide them with any nutritional value, and is equivalent to feeding a child nothing but candy. If they fill up on the empty calories of bread, they will be less likely to feel hungry enough to forage for wild food that contains the nutrients they need.
Over time, ducks will become malnourished and just generally unhealthy. When a duck isn’t healthy, it increases its susceptibility to diseases and health problems. Ducks and geese can also develop a condition referred to as “angel wing” which causes their wing to twist outward and lose feathers. Birds with this condition, that is caused by feeding them too much bread and crackers, are unable to fly and evade predators.
Like bread, crackers can also cause a wide array of health problems in ducks. They do not offer the ducks any nutritional value and can even lead to deformities if consumed in abundance.
Furthermore, feeding the ducks crackers can attract rodents, such as mice and rats, to the area. Another potential problem caused by trying to feed ducks crackers is polluting the water with food waste. That is why it’s best to save the crackers for yourself and not feed them to the ducks.
Chips are another common food thrown out to ducks. Like bread products, chips don’t contain anything useful for ducks. Chips are also filled with salt, and, just like in humans, too much sodium can have a negative effect on the duck’s health.
Some people assume if they offer ducks chips that are not flavored or are not salted, that it would be the better option. This just isn’t the case, since chips still don’t offer any vitamins, minerals, or nutrients that waterfowl need for a healthy life.
Dry cereal is an easy snack to take with you, since you can toss some in a Ziplock bag and head out the door. Because it is easy to transport, some people think it is the ideal treat to feed wild ducks they come across in the park.
Unfortunately, cereal is filled with ingredients that are not good for the overall health of ducks. In addition, cereal doesn’t contain any nutritional value for ducks and can have a negative effect on the duck’s growth.
Donuts are another bread-type product that people don’t think twice about before throwing out for ducks to consume. While the gesture is nice, it would be better to give them something that isn’t filled with sugar.
Donuts don’t provide ducks with any beneficial nutrients, and can actually increase their chance of obesity. Furthermore, donuts can attract rodents to the duck-feeding area, and since rodents can carry diseases and parasites, you run the risk of transmitting these issues to the ducks.
Popcorn is another easy to carry item that one can simply toss on the ground or in the water for ducks to consume. Unfortunately, popcorn isn’t a good choice for ducks since it isn’t nutritious for the birds and can even pollute the waterways. Even plain popcorn without any added flavorings or seasonings is not a good choice for ducks.
What better way to get rid of those tablescrapes than sharing them with your feathered friends? Unfortunately, this is usually not a good idea. A lot of the foods that we as humans consume are just not healthy for ducks, and some foods can even be harmful to these animals.
For example, avocados, citrus fruits, onions and chocolate can all be toxic to ducks if consumed. Best not to chance it if you don’t know for sure what is safe for them to eat.
Treats in Moderation
If you were to feed ducks bread only as an occasional treat, that would be fine. The problem is unless you own ducks and are monitoring everything they eat, you have no idea how much bread / empty carbohydrates they are eating.
If you think of the average duck at the park, they are probably being visited all day long by people just like you throwing them pieces of bread, bagels, chips and french fries. They get treats all day every day. So at that point they aren’t treats anymore, it is a large portion of their diet.
In heavily trafficked areas, people may be offering more food than the ducks can eat. Food left on the ground or floating in the water will rot and grow mold, adding to pollution of the water and potential to make ducks sick.
What To Feed Ducks
So what CAN you feed to your duck friends?
The best foods to feed ducks are ones filled with nutrients that will help the ducks. Foods with high amounts of vitamins and minerals will not only help keep the ducks healthy, but they also promote good growth and development.
- Uncooked oats (quick-cooking or rolled)
- Cracked corn
- Barley, wheat, or other similar grains
- Rice (uncooked or cooked)
- Corn (canned, frozen or fresh)
- Peas (canned, frozen or fresh)
- Lettuces (just not too much Iceberg)
- Mealworms (live or dried)
- Grapes (cut into small pieces)
- Duck feed pellets (find at feed stores or online, like these)
And keep in mind, that urban legend about oats or rice making a ducks stomach explode is not true!
Feeding ducks is fun, and if everyone else is throwing them bread and the ducks seem happy, it’s hard to not want to join in. Just remember you are only getting a small snapshot of the bigger picture. The ducks at the park are probably eating too many empty calories and may not be as healthy as they should be. You can do them a favor by taking a little extra time to bring some food that is healthier and will help them vary their diet.
Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.