I've recently been feeling very concerned about the United Kingdom's waterfowl and feel that the public need better education on their dietary needs.
Society are raised believing that the kindest thing a person can do is to provide wild pigeons, ducks, swans and other waterfowl with their stale bread. What the public fail to realise is that it is not only unhealthy but potentially very dangerous to the birds.
Whilst bread is a fantastic source of carbohydrate for humans, it has no nutritional value for birds at all. In fact, it is actually the equivalent of junk food for them and can lead to excessive weight gain and malnutrition as well as many other problems.
If eaten in extreme moderation, bread is not harmful to ducks or birds, but that moderation is almost impossible to judge. While one family may only feed the ducks once every few weeks, there are many other individuals who may feed so frequently that it results in a diet based almost solely on unhealthy bread products.
Not only is bread fattening to ducks (thus making it harder for them to fly and evade predators), feeding ducks bread can also lead to many other problems.
In an area where ducks are fed bread on a regular basis, ducklings will not receive adequate nutrition for proper growth and development. Furthermore, ducks will naturally seek out an easy food source such as human handouts and ducklings will not learn to forage for natural foods as easily.
Where an easy food source is abundant, ducks and other waterfowl will lay more eggs and the pond or lake will become overcrowded. This makes it more difficult for the birds to seek out healthier food sources and increases the likelihood of territorial aggression.
When too much bread is offered to ducks, not all of it will be eaten. The soggy, uneaten bread is unsightly and rotting bread can create noxious odours as well as lead to greater algae growth that can clog natural waterways. This concentrates the pollution and can eventually eradicate fish and other life in the vicinity.
Feeding ducks bread can increase the spread of diseases in two ways. First, a carbohydrate-rich diet leads to greater defecation, and bird faeces easily harbour bacteria responsible for numerous diseases, including avian botulism. Second, mouldy bread can cause aspergillosis, a fatal lung infection that can decimate entire duck and waterfowl flocks.
Rotting supplies of food leftover from sated ducks will attract other unwelcome pests such as rats, mice and insects. These pests can also harbour additional diseases that can be dangerous to humans.
When birds become accustomed to handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive in order to get more food. Their loss of fear can also cause other dangers, such as a willingness to cross busy roads in order to reach picnickers and other likely sources of food.
Wild ducks and waterfowl can live longer, healthier lives by relying on natural food sources such as aquatic plants, seeds, grasses and insects rather than taking handouts from well-meaning humans. I feel the public needs to be properly educated on this topic. Whilst the government are comfortable to spend 2 billion pounds on the Olympics, I feel that some of this money should go towards advertisements that properly demonstrate how harmful it can be to feed waterfowl.
Understandably, the public will always want to feed the ducks because doing so can be an enchanting experience, however there are many healthier alternatives to offer them instead of bread. Great foods to feed ducks include:
-Grapes cut in half
-Cracked corn, barley, oats, birdseed or other grains
-Frozen peas that have been defrosted
-Duck feed pellets
For many people, feeding ducks bread is not only a way to interact with wildlife, but it is also a handy way to dispose of old, stale or mouldy bread. There are many other useful ways to dispose of unwanted bread, however, including:
-Adding bread to a compost pile to create natural mulch and fertiliser
-Trying stale bread recipes such as bread pudding or homemade dressing and stuffing
-Toasting stale bread for homemade croutons or garlic toast
The best way to use up stale bread without feeding it to ducks is to avoid having any leftover bread in the first place. Bread can be easily frozen until needed, or the public can monitor their menus and shopping to ensure there are no leftover products that would be tempting to feed to ducks.
I feel that with all of this information, DEFRA could help put an end to the borderline cruelty of feeding waterfowl and help the public become more conscious of their actions. I am currently putting together a petition to help DEFRA understand that it is not only me who feels these concerns.
It is obviously not only the birds that are impacted but members of the public too. If a law was eventually placed regarding handouts to birds, so many things would improve including the welfare and safety of the animals, the envrionment would gradually repair and of course the public could continue to enjoy the wildlife without causing any harm.