If you’ve been to a busy park with a pond where it’s common for folks to feed bread to the wildlife, you may have started noticing signs over the last few years. These signs tell you in no uncertain terms NOT to feed bread to the ducks, yet if you’re a regular visitor, you’ll see people do it every day anyway. I think that a lot of people have in the past thought these signs were similar to don’t feed the seagull signs, but that’s not the case. When you’re asked not to feed the seagulls or pigeons in a city centre, it’s because it causes more of the birds to gather. This can be a big problem, especially with the amount of waste they produce, but also with territory disputes and breeding issues.
Bread is actually bad for ducks and water birds
When it comes to water birds, bread poses an actual problem to the health of the birds. Bread is a filler. High in carbohydrates, low in vitamins, it’s an unnatural food for wildlife – especially for water birds, and it fills them up. A bird that’s not hungry isn’t foraging and whilst it might seem a kindness to give them a big meal so that they can enjoy their day without worrying about looking for dinner, it’s actually nutritionally deficient. Ducks need a better diet to survive, especially once winter comes, and the lack of nutrition can lead to fatal problems. This can also have a critical effect on ducklings.
Bread is bad for the water ways
The ducks are now full from the morning sandwiches and are not bothering with what’s being thrown at them, yet people will continue to throw it in anyway. Uneaten bread creates bacteria and causes algae blooms which can affect plants, fish and wildlife alike. Disease can be spread from uneaten bread, which can even have an effect on how safe the water is for humans. Furthermore, because there tend to be popular feeding spots, this can cause a build up of bird droppings in one location and even damage habitat.
Bread attracts the wrong type
Bread in and along the water ways encourages best animals such as rats. This can damage the entire ecosystem, as rat populations can be prone to very fast growth, and can also lead to problems with bacteria and disease. Geese can be attracted by large quantities of bread into areas that have natural grazing grounds for them, which can result in them being aggressive and territorial. Where a lot of ducks and water birds are gathering for food, predators will naturally hunt as well. In short, the natural ecosystem of the area is affected.
Here’s what you can feed the ducks instead
One of our favourite family activities is feeding the ducks, and I’ve been doing it since I was a young child, but now it’s important to interact with wildlife in a way that protects both the animals and the waterways. Instead of feeding bread you can safely feed:
- Packaged Duck Food (I buy Wild Things Swan and Duck Food by the 5kg bag and then take a small tupperware out with me when we go to the park. They love it!).
- Wild Bird Seed (they can share with the birds in the garden!)
- Frozen Peas (don’t need to be cooked, just let them defrost)
- Rice (cooked or uncooked – good option if you have leftover rice from takeout)
- Grapes (cut in half or into quarters)
- Earthworms or mealworms (which you can buy from reptile shops for garden birds)
- Chopped green, including lettuce and salad mixes from the supermarket
- Vegetable trimmings and peel (great alternative to composting!)
Foods that are simply off the dinner table for ducks, swans, geese and other birds are bread and sandwiches, crackers and biscuits, crisps, chips, donuts, processed breakfast cereal, popcorn and sugary foods. If you have spare popcorn to throw away, feel free to give me a shout as I’ll never turn it down.
In addition to feeding the right types of food, vary where you feed them. Try not to feed them where everyone else is and if you’re a regular visitor, go to a different feeding spot to distribute the food (and bird droppings) more evenly. Portion control is also important, so it’s best not to feed them too much! Birds will overfeed, so if they’re still clamouring for more when you leave, it doesn’t mean they’re actually still hungry.
So what should I do with my bread then?
Bread freezes really well. If you’re not getting through a whole loaf in a week, try freezing it and you can then toast it without it affecting the taste. Stale bread can be used in recipes such as bread pudding, to make croutons, breadcrumb toppings in dishes such as kievs, or to make home-made stuffing to go with the Sunday roast. Finally, anything that is leftover that really isn’t edible can be used in the home compost, or given to your local council in the kitchen waste collection which is usually then composted. If you’re not sure if your council offers that service, it’s worth giving them a call.