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How and what to feed ducks – and why not to give them bread

what to feed ducks

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Outlines how and what to feed ducks in the park or on the farm, and the dangers to the ducks and their water if they are given bread to eat.

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Feeding the ducks is a favorite pastime for many people. Unfortunately, this does harm to waterfowl. There are much better things to feed ducks, especially if you want to know what to feed ducks in the park.

What to feed ducks: why bread is bad

what to feed ducks

Well-meaning people who feed ducks with bags full of stale bread are a common sight at lakes and ponds. “Feeding the ducks” is a popular leisure activity, especially with children, because the waterfowl seem to be very happy about the attention every time. Unfortunately, the picture is deceptive: Although bread is not harmful in itself in small quantities, waterfowl do not need bagged fast food. Because that is exactly what bread is for birds: fast food. It is high in carbohydrates, requires little effort, is heavily salted and relatively one-sided.

Side effects of feeding bread to ducks

Waterfowl instinctively eat as much as they can, as long as you continue to feed them. The fact that the ducks come to the feeding places en masse is not a sign of hunger, but of getting used to doing it. But those aren’t the only side effects of feeding ducks.

Nutritional deficiency

If water birds are fed only bread on a regular basis, they will experience a nutritional deficiency. The animals are more susceptible to disease: if we feed ducks regularly, they often get gout as a result. In addition, the behavior of the birds changes. The waterfowl lose their natural escape distance from humans, the large crowds of birds cause them stress and make them aggressive. In some cases, waterfowl also change their migratory habits due to regular feeding and thus become dependent on further feedings because otherwise they will not survive the winter. So feeding is a dangerous interference with nature!

Rotting bread

Uneaten pieces sink to the bottom of the water, rot there and, together with the bird droppings, increase algae growth. To break down the algae, a lot of oxygen is withdrawn from the water that plants and aquatic animals lack. This is especially a problem in summer, as a chronic lack of oxygen can develop in the lake. 

In the worst case, the body of water “tips over” and the habitat is permanently destroyed. Even if that doesn’t happen, the putrefaction and fermentation processes can allow botulism bacteria to form, which produce toxic spores. If the ducks ingest this through their food, they perish miserably. For this reason, duck feeding is prohibited in some cities and towns.

Much more bread ends up in the waters than one would think. Researchers in Australia observed ten ponds and found that walkers ate an average of 4.9 slices of bread. Around four and a half loaves of bread landed in each lake every day – that is a total of 1,642 loaves per year! In no pond was the bread completely eaten – between 11.4 and 53.6% of the bread remained in the water.

Declining water quality

But the dangers of water bird feeding don’t stop there. If you feed birds more, they excrete more – together with the leftover bread in the water, this leads to more algae and bacteria. Due to the poor water quality, fewer crabs and fish survive, which in turn often represent the actual food of the water birds. When we feed ducks, we encourage a vicious cycle that makes the animals dependent on additional feeding and deprives them of their natural source of food.

What to feed ducks

However, in moderation, it is permissible to feed waterfowl. It is important where and with what you feed them. Bread is taboo when feeding the ducks, and French fries or other spicy or salted dishes are also not allowed. If you want to feed ducks, feed the waterfowl cereals, acorns and pieces of fruit. Special water fowl feed is also available. The food should always be cut small and fresh.

It cannot be repeated enough: ducks are omnivores! The image of the duck in the pond being fed breadcrumbs by grandma is deceptive. The duck will be very happy to eat the crumbs and in all likelihood with enjoyment, but in case of doubt will just as little disdain a tadpole that it finds near the shore or a dragonfly that it chases after. Of course, the focus of your menu will always be on forage and grains. 

Like many other birds, the animals are not vegetarians. However, they cover a large part of their protein requirement through animals that they catch in the wild as well as in pastures or in the garden. If you wanted to make an admittedly incomplete list of what a duck eats, it would look something like this:

  • fresh green fodder, especially grass and herbs, but also nettles
  • Salad, leaves of all kinds of vegetables, all types of green cabbage and, very much, dandelions
  • Grains and grains or seeds in general, and also grain meal
  • Plant roots
  • boiled potatoes, potato peels, boiled vegetables, corn flakes and various types of flour
  • Eggshells and eggs
  • Insects of all kinds
  • Worms, snails and small frogs

How much to feed them

The amount of feed is also important: only feed as much as the waterfowl can eat in a short time, because the animals themselves do not know their limit. In addition, in the interests of water protection, you only have to feed on land and not throw food directly into the water. Pay attention to your role model function towards younger people: Parents, in particular, have to show their children that there are other ways to admire nature than to pour lots of bread on ducks. A visit to the wildlife park or petting zoo may be a better environment for feeding.