For a lot of families, going to the local park and feeding ducks pieces of bread has been an incredibly common and nostalgic tradition. I know it was for me — growing up in New York, I frequently went down to Central Park with my parents and fed loaves of white Wonderbread to the ducks and geese. It’s a wonderful memory that I know is similarly shared by people across the world.
Sweet and sentimental as it may be — it needs to stop.
I know this is a tough concept for a lot of people to accept since it’s an activity tied to so many fond and happy memories, but white bread is horrible for ducks. (For the record, it’s horrible for humans too.) Duck diets are just not meant to handle the ingredients in white bread.
Ducks are omnivores, meaning they get their nutrition from both plant and animal sources. Depending on the species of duck, their natural diet consists of a variety of insects, small fish, fish eggs, snails, worms, crayfish, grass, leaves, algae, aquatic plants, small frogs and tadpoles, seeds and grains, and small berries, fruits, and nuts.
White bread is traditionally made out of flour, yeast, sugar, butter, and salt. None of which are particularly safe or healthy for ducks to eat.
Bread lacks nutritional value of any benefit to ducks. It won’t kill them instantly upon consumption, but it’s essentially like constantly feeding them junk food. If they become reliant on this as a primary food source, it causes severe malnutrition, sickness, and stunted development in ducklings.
Besides the negative effects on ducks, throwing bread into ponds also poorly effects the frogs, fish, and turtles that commonly live alongside them. Bread is not healthy for any of these animals and can play a huge role in disrupting the natural order of the ecosystem.
If these animals are loading up on bread, they are not eating the insects and other small species they are naturally inclined to eat. When we see an interruption in their diet we inevitably see things like an overpopulation of bugs, such as mosquitos, flies, and tics — some of which are notorious for carrying diseases deadly to humans.
Any animal that is routinely fed by humans can also get conditioned to be reliant on that food source and will lose their natural instinct to hunt. This is why in many cases, captive-born animals cannot safely be released back into the wild.
As well-intentioned as many bread feeders are, it’s important to educate each other so that we can live in healthy harmony with these birds that are so critically important to our ecosystem.
Ultimately, like most wild animals, it’s better to leave them alone and let them hunt on their own. But if you really want to continue to feed the ducks, there are many different foods that you can give them that are much better than white bread.
Instead of bread, consider bringing foods like corn, barley, oats, uncooked rice, birdseed, unsalted nuts, halved grapes, peas, fresh greens, or vegetable trimmings.
For more information on what you can do to help protect ducks and other species of waterfowl, you can visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.