Feeding bread to ducks FAQ

Should you, or should you not, feed ducks bread?

There’s a photo of a sign going round on Twitter claiming that scaremongering about the dangers of feeding ducks bread is causing mass starvation of ducks due to total lack of food. But in counterpoint, there are often signs warning people not to feed ducks bread which claim that a diet of bread causes something called “angel wing”, a condition causing wing malformations.

Is angel wing real?

Yes. In a bird with angel wing, the bird’s wrist joints develop slower than the rest of their body. The wrist bones in the wing twist outwards, and the whole wing becomes twisted as a result. The condition can be treated in young birds by strapping the wing and rapidly improving the diet; adult birds with angel wing are stuck with it and usually die young due to their inability to fly.

Cengland0 CC BY 3.0

Is it caused by bread?

Angel wing is not caused directly by the consumption of bread, but when bread makes up the whole of a growing bird’s diet. A diet high in bread is high in carbohydrates and proteins and low in vital nutrients like vitamin E, calcium and manganese. Like any other living creature, ducks have particular dietary needs; just as humans need to consume sources of calcium while growing, so do birds. If a duck is full up on bread, it won’t go looking for other food which contains those nutrients. So bread isn’t poisonous to birds, or directly harmful in that sense: they can live on bread, but they will be flightless and thus in more danger than your average bird. Bread will keep them from starving; it will not keep them healthy.

Are ducks starving without bread?

It’s possible. One reason would be that their populations have grown to the point where their natural environment in parks can’t support them — perhaps there simply aren’t enough of their natural food sources to support the huge number of ducks. Another reason is that excess bread rotting in the water could also be attracting algae and unbalancing the system in the park so that their usual food sources are gone; I have seen park signs claiming this can happen.

What should you feed ducks instead of bread?

The important thing is that they need a variety of food in their diet. A bit of bread from your sandwich or the end of a loaf once in a while is fine, but they need other food as well. Common suggestions include mealworms, peas or corn, cooked or uncooked rice, uncooked oats, birdseed, grapes, chopped veg… They might not jump on these the same way as they do on bread because they are unfamiliar food sources, so it may take returning to the park with the same food several times before you get ducks as eager to take these options as they are to eat bread. I can definitely confirm from my own experiments that ducks and other waterfowl quickly pick it up and are eager enough to take oats!

Is there a time of year when it’s more important to feed ducks?

Winter. This is when their natural food sources are scarce anyway. While you might be tempted to feed the birds while they’re raising young, it’s especially important at that time that they eat a variety of food: young ducks eating primarily bread are the ones who will develop angel wing! They also need to be learning to forage for themselves at that time.

Too long, didn’t read; summarise?

Feed ducks a range of foods to help them develop in a healthy way. If you’re not sure, birdseed works best. Bread is not poisonous, but if it’s all ducks eat it causes serious skeletal defects.

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