Apley Woods

Caring for the woods and wildlife

Male MallardMale Mallard

Reproduced by kind permission of Georgia Locock

Many of us would have first been introduced to the joys of the wildfowl world by feeding ducks bread at a local park or pond. It’s long been a favourite family pastime that dates back to the 19th century and gives children the chance to connect with nature. However it is now thought that we are doing more harm than good, especially for the Eco-system.

It’s long been known that processed white bread fed to wildfowl on a large scale can cause them to become very ill and, in some cases, deformed. But now we are becoming increasingly warned that the harmless act of feeding bread to ducks is not only damaging the species health but the whole ecosystem. Ecosystems are very important, even if it is in an urban area. By one change within the ecosystem, everything else can be changed and, in some cases, destroyed.

Ducks Health

Many think that they’re doing a lovely thing by feeding the ducks some bread. But they forget that they could be one of twenty people doing the same thing that day. Not only can bread be fattening to ducks and make it harder for them to fly and otherwise escape predators, feeding ducks bread can also lead to other problems. Here are three reasons why the ducks health is affected.

Firstly, Duckling malnutrition. In an area where ducks are regularly fed, ducklings will not receive the proper nutrition for proper growth and development. Also, because ducks will naturally seek out an easy source such as human handouts, ducklings will not learn to forage for natural foods easily. This can lead to them starving to death.

Secondly, overcrowding. When an easy food source is abundant, ducks and other wildfowl will lay more eggs and the pond or lake will become overcrowded. This can lead to a number of problems including birds then find it much more difficult to seek out healthier food sources which increases the likelihood of things like territorial aggression.

Third but not least, Disease. There are several diseases that feeding ducks bread can increase the spread of. First, a carbohydrate-rich diet leads to greater defecation, and bird faeces easily harbour bacteria responsible for numerous diseases, including avian botulism. Another is aspergillosis. By eating mouldy bread it can cause a fatal lung infection that can decimate entire duck and wildfowl flocks. One last disease is something known as Angel Wing. This is deformed wing growth which stops birds from flying. This is more obvious and you often see it with Canadian Geese when feathers on their wings are sticking right out.

Damage to the entire ecosystem

Every year we feed six million loaves of bread to ducks in England and Wales. Obviously not all of this bread is eaten by ducks and therefore it falls to the waters bottom and causes wider havoc. This is when algae and bacteria blooms resulting in poisoning other species as well as attracting unwanted vermin. It can also trigger noxious odours and fuel algae that can eventually eradicate fish, and other underwater species, from the area.

Rotting bread exacerbates naturally occurring surface algae which can give off toxins damaging to fish populations and create a stench for humans. It also denies sunlight to underwater plants, and the bread eaten by birds creates more faeces which has the same effect.

The nutrients can also encourage filmentous algae, which grows upwards from the bottom in chains and threads. The algae can slow down river flows, further deadening the environment.

As the ducks are opting for the easy meal they aren’t eating the natural things that they should, not only does this mean that they’re getting a bad diet but also they’re not keeping the local ecosystem in check.

In areas where there is an abundance of people feeding breed to ducks other wildfowl, species which prefer not to eat bread, can suffer too. Due to the bottom of the pool, river, canal etc is affected by the build up of bread and bacteria this can obviously affect plant growth and fish populations. These plants normally eaten by other species are disturbed and the species that eat them are pushed elsewhere.

It isn’t fair to say that bread is the main problem but it has a massive effect on not only the health of wildfowl but also other species and the ecosystem in these areas.

Attraction of unwanted species

In some areas, especially urban areas, vermin such as rats are unwanted as they can cause further problems. Decomposing bread can attract rats whose urine transmits Weil’s Disease which can be deadly to humans.

The joy of feeding the ducks

As you can see feeding ducks bread has a profound effect on their health and the environment. However I remember going out when I was younger and feeding the ducks, it was always a magical moment and a great way to interact with the natural world. This is something that SHOULDN’T stop. In some towns the council has started fining people if they’re caught feeding the ducks, I don’t agree with this. Instead of this we should make the simple change of not feeding them bread but other food. It seems as though feeding ducks bread has become a fashionable thing and people feel as though they’re doing a good thing but they’re not. Changing the food they offer though can make all the difference. Also it’s vital that children carry on interacting with the natural world from a young age.

Below are a list of foods that are much better to offer to wildfowl then bread:
• Bird seed
• Oats
• Mealworms
• Chopped vegetable trimmings or peels
• Defrosted frozen peas.


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