Bread is not duck food. (Find out why bread is bad for ducks over here!) Bread is people food though, so instead of dealing out our yeast-y yummies to ducks who should not be eating such food, why don't we make use of it ourselves!? (And find out what ducks favourite nutritious food is over here!) Mostly we feed ducks our stale bread. Bread that's a wee bit too crusty and hard where it's meant to be soft and fluffy, but in fact, this bread is perfectly edible for us! You might not want to make a peanut butter sandwich with a slice of wholemeal bread that resembles the texture of a cereal box dropped on the floor in a pile of Cornflake crumbs, but never fear, here are some ideas so you are not wasting your (wonderfully flexible) stale bread:
Next time you go to the duck pond, grab a handful of frozen peas instead of your stale farmers loaf and you'll have super healthy ducks with glowing hair and nails AS WELL AS some super tasty bread and butter pudding waiting for you when you get home. What more could you ask for?
What else is there to do when it is -500 degrees outside, your hands are basically ice cream scoops with fingernails and your toes are so far gone it feels like you have stones in your shoes rather than tootsies other than feed the ducks?! I love a cold, crisp morning. Not that that’s what it was. It was grey, cold, muddy and, of course, it started to rain after a wee while. But the ducks were happy to see us! And does that not just make it all worth it?!
Seeing their li’l legs pump under the surface of the water and their feathered tails waggle with anticipation when they hear the rustle of a sandwich bag makes me feel like I'm giving them Christmas in a bag rather than a few morsels of nosh.
My plan today is to find out what healthy treat ducks most prefer to eat. I bought a lunchbox of goods with me and decided to score the healthy food items on their duck suitability.
On our list we had:
Grapes (seedless and quartered)
I decided to give each item a score of 1 - 5 on their buoyancy, nutrition, practicality and, of course, duck enthusiasm. The results of my experiment were as follows:
Duck enthusiasm: 1
Grapes float as well as a pancake can recite the alphabet.
Grapes are quite expensive, about £2 for a punnet. They are incredibly yum yum yummy though. Both of these things mean that I am not particularly willing to share. Also, once I've quartered them they are exposed to rotting and will be pretty yucky by the next day. Grapes are reasonably robust even after dicing, they are not oozey or mushy so when I put my hand in the sandwich bag to obtain the fruit my hand wasn't covered in purple sludge. I gave grapes a practicality score of 2 based on them being too yummy and expensive to share and their rapid rotting ability versus their reasonable robustness.
The ducks were not enthused by their grapes. A goose actually sniffed my hand and decided opening its mouth to eat the grape in my palm was too much of an effort. I dished out a few grapes to the eagerly waiting ducks in the water but I think they were disappointed with my offering. I watched a few dive down to catch some sinking grapes but after they'd had one quarter and realised grapes are not very exciting they abandoned the rest. Based on the fact that I did see one or two grape nibbles and other than that absolutely nothing, I gave the grapes a duck enthusiasm score of 1.
Duck enthusiasm: 5
The oats were wonderfully buoyant. They floated like Cheerios in milk. The ducks were easily able to scoop up all the oats they wanted without getting their hair wet. They sprinkled the surface of the water like snowflakes. It was so lovely watching the ducks nip at the oats without getting in a tiz about whether they could hold their breath long enough to grab their morsels, or watch them reappear from the water looking upset because their morsel was juuuuusst too far gone below for them to reach. I happily give oats a score of 5 for their buoyancy.
Oats are cheap and cheerful, you can get a sack of plain ol’ Scottish oats for less than a pound at the supermarket and it would feed the five thousand a bowl of porridge every day for the next three years. Oats also last forever. Or at least for the next three years until the last bowl of cinnamon and raisin overnight oats is had by the slowest eater of the five thousand. They are nice and easy to transport as well, they don't get sloppy or mushy at all, you can squash them all you want and still get a bowl of oats at the end of it and ducks don't even eat porridge so you don't have to grab your apron, chef's hat or golden syrup to feed them! For these reasons oats have earned themselves a top score of 5 for practicality.
Ducks freaking LOVED the oats. They were lapping them up from my hands when I offered it to them and when the oats were sprinkled over the water ducks appeared from the other side of the pond to get in on the action. As oats don't smell of anything this was, of course, due to the ducks spreading the good word about the nosh available. A goose chirped at me in what I assume was appreciation when I showered him with oats (I think he was putting in his order for next week. Cheeky.). Imagine dancing in a cloud of your favorite food. Raisins floating down from the sky from cinnamon clouds, falling neatly into the open peanut butter bagel I have cupped in my hands. Wouldn't that be the most wonderful thing!? Unless your fav food is something like rice pudding or baked beans. Ew. Based on the ducks being as enthused with the oats as dogs are with peanut butter. I have given them a well deserved score of 5.
Duck enthusiasm: 0
I cut the cucumber into wee chunks rather than into the nice circular slices you see in salad bars and duck. The chunks, similarly to the grapes, floated like bricks. If I had cut the cucumber with a large enough surface area to outweigh its volume I'm sure it would have floated, I'm not sure if this would have made a difference or not to how excited the ducks would be about getting fed cucumber. Because ultimately, cucumber is still cucumber whether it sinks or floats. Based on cutting the cucumber into chunks I gave it a buoyancy score of 0.
Cucumber is relatively cheap. 50p per baton. And a baton would feed a fair few ducks. Cucumber is also hard enough that a rattle around in a lunchbox didn't turn it into a smoothie. However it is fresh so won't last forever, although, once cut it definitely lasts longer than a pear or a grape quarter. I'm giving the cucumber a 4 based on it's budget friendly price and it's relative resistance to spoiling. Docking only one point for the fact that cucumbers are not eternal.
The ducks were horrified by the cucumber. I watched them get reasonably excited at the prospect of free munchies, munch, then immediately spit out their munchies. I don't think I saw one cucumber chunk get past the uvula. Although, I would be pretty disappointed too if I were expecting a cheeky bagel and received something green and watery. So I don't half blame them. If I could give negative points for duck enthusiasm I would.
Duck enthusiasm: 1
The pear was not buoyant. Not at all. However I gave it a (rather generous) score of 1 for buoyancy because rather than swimming like a brick, it kind of floated down gracefully. Gracefully enough that (if the ducks actually wanted to eat it. Which they didn't really) the ducks could scoop it up without having to have a scuba suit and flippers. My theory behind this is that my pear was a li’l mushy so had a sort of open lattice structure with wee air pockets, meaning it was slightly less dense than the cucumber and grapes so there was a bit more Swan Lake in the way the pear sunk as compared to the grapes and the cucumber. As the pear didn't completely go down like a bullet I gave it a buoyancy score of 1.
Pears are super cheap. You can get them for 50p a bag if you looked hard enough. However once you chop them up you have about 10 minutes before you start seeing the first bits of brown start to creep over the pear’s pale flesh. Pears will rot quite quickly after being cut, give them a day and they're completely inedible. Also, a nice pear is rather mushy. Therefore, in the transportation phase from fridge to pond they smooshed over their bag a wee bit so when I put my hand in my fingers got a bit sticky. If you wanted to you could give your ducks a pear with the ripeness of a rock and it probably wouldn't splatter everywhere but what do pears that feel like rocks taste like? Rocks. However, I do know that this is how some people prefer their pears - maybe ducks have the same preference. At least they wouldn't moosh all over my hands. I scored pears a 3 on practicality based on them being relatively cheap and, if one likes the taste of rocks, their reasonable durability, docking points for their readiness to brown and squishiness (for the pears that actually taste like pears.)
As I mentioned above, I fed my ducks a nice ripe pear. I had a cheeky nibble as I was cutting it up and it tasted sweet and pear-y. However we did have another bag of pears on the counter that were busy ripening so were still in the ‘rock’ phase. The ducks did not like the pears. A few ducks had a nibble and a goose nudged one with it's beak but other than that there was no action. From these observations I gave the pear a duck enthusiasm score of 1. Although, ducks may have a preference for rock pears? This may or may not have changed the outcome of the experiment. I have based my duck enthusiasm score on the ducks’ dismissive reaction to ripe pears. I'd be interested to know if you like rock pears and if you have had different experiences to me after having fed your ducks rock pears. Tell me in the comments!
Totting up the scores for my duck ‘treats’ gives us the following results:
4th place: grapes with a total of 3 points
Joint 3rd place: pears and cucumber with a total of 4 points
1st place: oats with a total of 15 points 😃
So we have a very clear winner. Next time you go and feed the ducks, bring along a sachet of oats and you'll have ducks nipping at your feet ready to feast on their healthy treat!
Is there not something wonderfully therapeutic about feeding the ducks? I love watching them all speed swim over to me when I start chucking stuff into their watery abode. Do you ever think, when the li’l duckadoos are swimming over to get in on the action whether it is actually a race? Whether the ducks at the back are the chubby eaten-way-too-many-stale-hot-cross-buns ducks and the ones at the front are the lean and fit ducks that get first pick of the nosh? Whether what you're feeding them is actually good for them and whether you could help those chubby wee ducklings with their body confidence by putting them on a diet?
Maybe we should?
why is bread bad for ducks?
It is very common I see birds being fed bread by the bucket load whenever I visit a pond. We have been taught to feed ducks bread, bread is good for us so surely it is fine to feed our left-overs to our feathered friends? I'm going to tell you something a li'l different:
In actual fact, feeding ducks bread is pretty bad for them. Ducks being fed bread is like us having a skip full of stale cupcakes tipped over our garden - ripe and ready for us to saunter over and munch on. When we think of it like this, we can understand that there would be no need for us to drag ourselves to the supermarket, feel our way through the cucumbers to make sure we get the best one, look at what's on offer to get the best deals, haul our shopping home, etcetera, etcetera. It is similar for ducks. Why would ducks ever need to go through the trouble of foraging for berries and seeds if everything they think they need is given to them by us? When we feed ducks bread, we satisfy them so that there is no need for them to find food for themselves. They therefore do not learn the skills they need to survive the hard core feral duck life.
For our not-quite-as-feral-as-they-like-to-think ducklings, there may come a point where even the chubby ducks at the back of the pack get full up (although, if I were a duck I can't say I would ever not munch on a stale, soggy bagel given the opportunity!). This leads to a bunch of complications. As I am not a duck, that soggy bagel would not get eaten. The rotting bread leads to rapid algal growth on the surface of the water. The algae, if successful, will cover the surface of the pond blocking the plants beneath the surface from receiving the light they need from the sun to photosynthesise to give the aquatic life they share their pond with oxygen. Oxygen will get used up and will not be replenished and so we lose our aquatic life.
Carbohydrates make birds poop more. Therefore bread brings about lots of bird poop. Bird poop is an excellent breeding ground for harmful, disease causing microorganisms. One example is the bacterium C. botulinum which causes avian botulism, a paralytic disease that is responsible for the highest mortality rate of waterfowl.
To us, mouldy bread is like... Mouldy bread. But to microorganisms it is a triple layer, super creamy, moist and dense, chocolate covered and marshmallow topped, fudgey and fabulous brownie. With raisins sprinkled within. Mouldy bread harbours the fungus that causes aspergillosis. Birds with acute aspergillosis have severe difficulty breathing (as the lungs and trachea are the most affected organs) and, too often, this leads to sudden death. Chronic aspergillosis is more worrying. It is first asymptomatic so the affected birds are often too ill to treat. White nodules appear that dissolve the birds' tissue allowing colonies of spores to enter the bloodstream. The spores then travel throughout the body, infecting the major organs of the poorly bird.
A spokeswoman from the U.K. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) told The Guardian: "White bread in particular has no real nutritional value, so while birds may find it tasty, the danger is that they will fill up on it instead of other foods that could be more beneficial to them,"
Even though our ducks may be getting their fill of calories, they may still be malnourished as they are not getting the essential nutrients they would get from food they would find in the wild. This malnutrition, if in young birds, may lead to angel wing. Angel wing is a deformity caused by a high calorie diet deficient in vitamin D, vitamin E and manganese (these would be found plentifully in a natural diet) . It causes deformity to the wrist joints as they develop, the wrists twist and wings grow horizontally from the body. The affected duck would be unable to fly.
not duck food
There are other things that are unsuitable for ducks to eat:
what to feed ducks:
We can still feed ducks though! Just avoid giving them your bready bubble and squeak. Foods that might be hanging around in your pantry that are good for ducks to eat are:
So if your strawberries have gotten a li’l tooooooooo ripe, or if you didn’t manage to feel around the supermarket for the perfect cucumber, just chop it up and take it as a healthy offering to the residents of your local duck pond!
HAPPY DUCK FEEDING!
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