What Can You Feed Ducks?

If you ask most birders when they had their first personal interaction with a wild bird, many would likely say it was when they fed the ducks at a local park or pond as a child. Many conservationists and city officials debate whether feeding wild birds is a good idea or not. Despite this difference of opinion, if you feel the inclination to pass along some treats to ducks or geese, it helps to know what foods are healthy choices.

In reality, they are capable of fending for themselves, finding their food in the wild, and do not require human handouts to survive, no matter the season or how much they beg for treats. One thing the experts all agree on is that too much feeding is unhealthy and can create excess waste and pollution that can destroy habitats and harm birds and other wildlife.

Birders also agree if you must give ducks or any other wild birds a treatand no posted notices or local ordinances discourage the practicethen nutritious treats are the best choice to offer. Some people may feed ducks their leftover stale or moldy bread, which should never be fed to the birds: Several types of mold can be fatal to waterfowl. Cracked corn Wheat, barley, or similar grains Oats (uncooked; rolled or quick) Rice (plain white or brown, cooked or uncooked, whole or instant) Milo seed Birdseed (any type or mix) Grapes (cut in half or quartered if very large) Nut hearts or pieces (any type but without salt, coatings, or flavoring) Frozen peas or corn (defrosted, no need to cook) Earthworms (fishing bait or dug from the garden) Mealworms (fresh or dried) Chopped lettuce or other greens or salad mixes Vegetable trimmings or peels (chopped into small pieces)

Avoid feeding the ducks if other visitors are already offering treats: Too much food can lead to health problems and uneaten leftovers. Litter can hurt birds and the environment; dispose of all trash properly, including bags, twist ties, plastic clips, and any unsuitable or moldy scraps.

What should you feed ducks instead of bread?

Halved grapes (be sure to cut them in half to prevent choking).Cracked corn..Thawed frozen peas..Barley..Oats..Birdseed..Duck pellets.

What should you not feed ducks?

Bread, chips, crackers, donuts, cereal, popcorn and similar bread-type products and scraps are never best to feed birds. Feeding ducks bread is bad because the food has little nutritional value and can harm ducklings’ growth, pollute waterways and attract rodents and other pests.

What is the best human food to feed ducks?

Great foods to feed ducks include:. Cooked rice or chopped lettuce. Cracked corn, barley, oats, birdseed or other grains. Frozen peas or corn kernels (defrosted first, but no need to cook) Duck feed pellets.

There are actually a few reasons why you should avoid feeding ducks bread. For starters, bread is not very nutritional for ducks. Can you imagine the health implications if you only ate bread as your diet?

Not only is it not nutritious, bread will attract many other birds and cause overcrowding, which in turn results in an increase in droppings. This can cause further disruption, such as slippery surfaces and possible damage to habitats and waterways.

As a nation were guilty of throwing away a vast amount of lettuce, especially the bagged variety. Instead of consigning it to the bin, rip it into pieces and treat your local ducks.

Heading to the park to feed the ducks is a very old and popular family pastime; its a fun, free activity and a great way for parents and children to see and appreciate wildlife and nature.

If everyone visiting a park only gives a few pieces of bread or crackers to ducks and geese, it quickly becomes the bulk of what wild waterfowl consume, and results in a variety of nutritional disorders. Birds with MBD have incredibly soft bones and joints that are often malformed and fractured; these injuries are caused by an overall calcium deficiency in the body, which is linked to an inappropriate diet.

Another common issue with ducks and geese in public parks is angel wing — a condition where the ends of an affected birds flight feathers are twisted upward. The intense competition for poor quality food combined with other stressful interactions often cause the ducks and geese to have suppressed immune systems, which reduces their ability to resist infection. In public settings where waterfowl are fed artificial diets, these birds often lose this fear and are more likely to be consumed by predators (feral cats, dogs, foxes, raccoons, etc).

But the bottom line is that wild ducks and geese should be able to find plenty of food on their own so if you can resist the temptation to feed, simply pack your binoculars and camera and enjoy watching the birds.

With Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust research showing that a bread-heavy diet could make birds physically weaker, we joined ecologist, writer and presenter Mike Dilger on location for BBC Inside Out to test alternatives to bread for ducks.

We wouldnt recommend scattering it on the ground, as that can entice ducks into harms way see passing dogs chasing them back into the water. Sure enough, the porridge oats floated for long enough to attract the attention of more of our diners than the lettuce, peas or bird seed.

We know from our own earlier tests that supermarket value porridge oats will also be snacked on, albeit their slightly dusty nature does make things a bit messier on a windy day! Our Buxton ducks had now had the chance to sample four foods and with a television camera recording as Mike reached for the Quack Snacks were we about to be featured on a TV bloopers show instead of Inside Out?

Debate About Feeding Wild Birds

The issue of whether it is all right to feed ducks, geese, swans, and other waterfowl is a topic of controversy among bird enthusiasts, conservationists, and park officials. There are many myths about feeding wild birds: Some believe that feeding the birds will stop their migration. Whether they are hand-fed or not, some waterfowl species are already non-migrating birds that live in city parks and similar bird habitats.Some people believe the misconception that waterfowl do not have their natural foods at hand in the parks and urban ponds. In reality, they are capable of fending for themselves, finding their food in the wild, and do not require human handouts to survive, no matter the season or how much they beg for treats.One thing the experts all agree on is that too much feeding is unhealthy and can create excess waste and pollution that can destroy habitats and harm birds and other wildlife. Also, leftover, uneaten food can attract rodents, create unpleasant odors, and spread diseases. Some birds that are fed too often can become aggressive, and may become a nuisance if they overpopulate a small area.Birders also agree if you must give ducks or any other wild birds a treat—and no posted notices or local ordinances discourage the practice—then nutritious treats are the best choice to offer.

Duck Food to Avoid

The most common items people feed to ducks and waterfowl are often the least nutritious and most unhealthy. Bread, chips, crackers, donuts, cereal, popcorn, and similar bread-type products or junk food scraps are not the right foods for birds.Feeding ducks bread is bad because the food has little nutritional value and can harm ducklings’ growth. The uneaten remnants often pollute waterways and attract vermin and other pests. Some people may feed ducks their leftover stale or moldy bread, which should never be fed to the birds: Several types of mold can be fatal to waterfowl.

Can you feed ducks bread?

There are actually a few reasons why you should avoid feeding ducks bread. For starters, bread is not very nutritional for ducks. Can you imagine the health implications if you only ate bread as your diet?Not only is it not nutritious, bread will attract many other birds and cause overcrowding, which in turn results in an increase in droppings. This can cause further disruption, such as slippery surfaces and possible damage to habitats and waterways.To find out more, read our article on why is bread bad for ducks?

So what can you feed ducks?

We’ve put together a list of six different foods that you can use as duck feed, instead of bread.

1. Sweetcorn

It turns out that ducks are quite partial to sweetcorn. Tinned, frozen or fresh. Obviously, remove them from the tin first.

2. Lettuce

As a nation we’re guilty of throwing away a vast amount of lettuce, especially the bagged variety. Instead of consigning it to the bin, rip it into pieces and treat your local ducks. Rocket, kale and iceberg are all great choices.

3. Frozen peas

There’s no need to cook them but make sure you defrost them first.

4. Oats

Flapjacks, rolled oats and even instant porridge oats will be a huge hit with ducks.

5. Seeds

Whether you buy bird seed or just seeds from the fruit and nut aisle in the supermarket, the ducks will be very grateful for these nutritious nibbles.

6. Rice

Ducks will appreciate a handful of leftover rice from a takeaway. Just remember to keep the crispy duck all to yourself. You can also use uncooked rice, both are fine.

Nutritional Consequences

Wild ducks and geese feed on a variety of grains and grasses, aquatic plants, and invertebrates, all naturally found in the wild. When eaten in combination, these foods are nutritionally balanced and provide everything a wild duck or goose needs to survive.In contrast, foods commonly fed to waterfowl in public parks, such as bread, crackers, popcorn, and corn, are typically low in protein and essential nutrients and minerals (such as calcium and phosphorus). While a single feeding of these “junk foods” may not harm waterfowl, it adds up! If everyone visiting a park “only” gives a few pieces of bread or crackers to ducks and geese, it quickly becomes the bulk of what wild waterfowl consume, and results in a variety of nutritional disorders.Waterfowl in public parks are often admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers with metabolic bone disease (MBD). Birds with MBD have incredibly soft bones and joints that are often malformed and fractured; these injuries are caused by an overall calcium deficiency in the body, which is linked to an inappropriate diet. Calcium also plays a crucial role in the formation of eggs/offspring, clotting ability, cardiovascular and neuromuscular function, and a variety of other metabolic activities. Birds with MBD are often so malformed they cannot fly and become dependent on handouts, completing a vicious cycle. Affected birds are typically too weak to compete for food and defend themselves and are often the victims of aggressive attacks by other ducks and geese.Another common issue with ducks and geese in public parks is “angel wing” — a condition where the ends of an affected bird’s flight feathers are twisted upward. “Angel wing” occurs when ducks and geese grow abnormally quickly; the affected birds’ joints don’t fully form as the wing and feathers develop and the weight of the growing feathers rotates the tip of the bird’s wing. If caught in initial stages, waterfowl suffering from this condition may be treated with splints to guide bone growth in the correct position. Although there are several theories regarding the causes of “angel wing”, some studies suggest that diets high in protein may be to blame. Well-meaning citizens feeding commercial duck, chicken, or turkey feed to avoid the “junk food” may be unintentionally creating this disorder.One more problem with bread products is that this type of food expands in water — and the stomach — which gives ducks and geese an artificial feeling that they are full. As a result, these birds may not feel motivated to continue foraging on natural foods of higher nutritional value.

Overcrowding & Disease

In the wild, a particular lake or pond habitat can sustain a certain number of ducks and/or geese – there is a maximum number of individuals that can successfully reside there indefinitely, with enough food, water, and shelter. This “carrying capacity” of the habitat can be artificially increased when supplemental food is added.While extra food may appear to be a good thing, it may lead to an expanded waterfowl population beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat. Without increasing space and other resources, ducks and geese can become stressed and overcrowded. Increased numbers of animals leads to increased competition for food; weaker birds in these environments often sustain severe injuries from more dominant birds. During the spring breeding season, gangs of male ducks physically attack each other to get access to female ducks. This not only leads to plucked featherless areas and skin lacerations, but females often drown as they cannot escape the driven males. Females that manage to escape the male ducks often nest up to a mile away from the water. This abnormal nesting behavior may put them at risk of urban predators, vehicle collisions, and perils not associated with nesting in natural areas.Overcrowded habitats also are prime territories for disease outbreaks; there have been numerous outbreaks of botulism, avian cholera, duck plague (duck enteritis virus), and aspergillosis (fungal infection) in city duck ponds where supplemental feeding is a regular activity. The intense competition for poor quality food combined with other stressful interactions often cause the ducks and geese to have suppressed immune systems, which reduces their ability to resist infection.For areas with high volumes of supplemental feeding, it’s also quite common for the unconsumed, leftover food to attract scavengers, including raccoons, opossums, and rats. Dense populations of these scavengers bring the potential for further disease outbreak, including zoonotic diseases that are transmissible to humans.

Habitat Degradation

There are also environmental issues related to artificially increasing the number of ducks and geese in a given area. Large numbers of waterfowl in a small area can seriously impact the surrounding environment.Feces generated by overcrowded waterfowl result in increased deposition of carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen in the water and surrounding grasslands. The addition of these nutrients to water (a process known as eutrophication) promotes excessive algae growth, leading to decreased oxygen levels, foul-smelling green and cloudy water, fish kills, and an overall decrease in water quality. Some common algae species (blue-green algae) even produce toxins associated with illness in wildlife, humans, and pets.Certain species of waterfowl may also be destructive to the environment, due to their natural foraging strategies. Canada geese graze on grass and other low-growing plants and, when in large flocks, often destroy lawns and gardens surrounding city ponds. If these birds cannot find enough food, they often migrate short distances to golf courses, sports fields, and other grassy public areas yet still use the public park as a “home base”. Increased waterfowl populations can also lead to erosion of shorelines and a general negative public opinion of ducks and geese.

Habituation

In the wild, a healthy fear of humans and other potential predators allows ducks and geese to survive and reproduce. In public settings where waterfowl are fed artificial diets, these birds often lose this fear and are more likely to be consumed by predators (feral cats, dogs, foxes, raccoons, etc). Urban waterfowl may also be more likely to be hit by vehicles, entangled in litter, and maliciously harmed by humans. Habituated geese can pose a significant public health threat at certain times of the year if they are defending a nesting female or a brood of goslings. These habituated geese have the ability to seriously hurt humans, particularly children.

What You Can Do

Allowing ducks and geese to find their own wild, nutritionally balanced diet is best – for the health of waterfowl and the surrounding environment.For those who would like to slowly stop feeding waterfowl: the least problematic foods mimic the waterfowl’s natural diet – greens and insects. Chopped up greens [kale, collards, dandelions (only from pesticide-free yards)] are more nutritious than any junk food, including corn. Ducks and geese eat insects too — so a special treat of mealworms or freeze-dried crickets would also likely be enjoyed! But the bottom line is that wild ducks and geese should be able to find plenty of food on their own – so if you can resist the temptation to feed, simply pack your binoculars and camera and enjoy watching the birds.

What to feed ducks?

With Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust research showing that “a bread-heavy diet could make birds physically weaker”, we joined ecologist, writer and presenter Mike Dilger on location for BBC Inside Out to test alternatives to bread for ducks.All the foods in our test were scattered sparingly over the water of the lake within the Buxton Pavilion Gardens.

Lettuce

We used the dark green outer leaves of Little Gem lettuce, ripped into small bite-size pieces. They floated briefly, enough for a few of the ducks and geese to investigate, but it was only really the Canada Geese who had a nibble – perhaps unsurprising as they’d been grazing on the green grass surrounding the lake moments before.If trying lettuce yourself, we’d recommend trying the most lightweight leaves in bite-size pieces – a floating snack appears one more likely to at least be sampled.

Peas

Peas or sweetcorn are commonly included in lists of duck-friendly foods, so we defrosted some supermarket garden peas to tempt our quacking friends. Alas, they sank right away and only attracted the attention of a couple of long-necked diners.If using peas, we’d recommend trying them over shallow water – if they’re visible and accessible to dabbling ducks, you may have more success.

Garden Bird Seed

We tried so-called “no mess” garden bird seed, with kibbled maize, sunflower hearts and oats. This also sank right away, gaining little attention from any of our feathered quacking friends.As with peas or sweetcorn, you may have more success scattering it over shallow water. We wouldn’t recommend scattering it on the ground, as that can entice ducks into harm’s way – see passing dogs chasing them back into the water. Also, what they don’t eat litters the ground and can attract vermin.

Porridge Oats

These just weren’t any porridge oats, they were jumbo porridge oats – selected to be better floaters! Sure enough, the porridge oats floated for long enough to attract the attention of more of our diners than the lettuce, peas or bird seed.We know from our own earlier tests that supermarket value porridge oats will also be snacked on, albeit their slightly dusty nature does make things a bit messier on a windy day!