Feeding the Ducks in the Park. . . Am I Hurting Them?

Our local park has a large pond, with a year-round population of ducks. Many of them are “rescue” ducks which wouldn’t survive on their own. (One has a twisted leg, for example, and another is missing a wing.) Some of them have just apparently decided that the park is a pretty good place to set up camp for the winter.

One of my favorite things to do in the winter is to go down there with a few loaves of Wonder Bread and feed them. I love how they swarm around me, honking plaintively for their meal. They act like they’re so hungry!

Not too long ago, I was talking about this with a co-worker, and he was horrified. He claimed that white bread can actually harm the ducks by swelling in their stomachs and intestines.

I’ve seen the stuff that other people feed them. The owner of a local movie theater brings down big bags of salted popcorn. (If anything would hurt them, I’d say that movie-theater popcorn would.) Others feed them potato chips.

I suggested to my co-worker that these ducks’ stomachs must be used to “city” foods, much like squirrels have become. He didn’t agree.

Thoughts, anyone?

White bread doesn’t swell in their stomachs and intestines. It doesn’t swell in YOURS, does it? And it doesn’t swell when you toss it in the water.

White bread isn’t the best thing in the world you can feed them, but that’s because it’s so relatively low in nutritional value. If you fed them whole-grain bread it might be better. They’ll also eat corn, even if it’s not of the salted movie-theater popped variety.

This news story from Indianapolis mentions weight gain and lack of nutritional value as reasons not to feed ducks white bread.

Sounds like a variation of the “birds eat rice from weddings and explode” urban legend. Here’s snopes’ debunking:

No, it won’t hurt the birds. It may hurt the pond, though. Ponds around here in city parks have been declared polluted by our state environmental agency. The culprit, it turns out, is duck and goose poop. The E. Coli numbers in the ponds are way up because lots of people feed lots of bread to lots of waterfowl, who generate lots of poop in the water and on the banks. Instead of a lovely fish pond, we have a fetid cesspool.

If they’re rescue ducks, isn’t it likely that they’re being cared for by someone? If so, let them give them the proper food. If not, then feed them minimally, and be sure it’s nutritionally decent.

Under NO circumstances feed wild ducks, or urban pigeons, or I will hunt you down and rub pigeon poop on your gums.

White bread is not a good idea for anything or anybody to eat. It’s got no fiber, it’s loaded with carbs and nothing else, just throw it all out and never get any more. Whole grain is much better for your digestion and for the ducks’.

Here’s some good info on what to feed ducks:


Feeding wild animals is never, never a good thing (unless you’re a professional saving a certian population of animals in extraordinary situations). This includes squirrels in the park, ducks on the water, seagulls at the beach, bears at the campground, monkeys at the zoo, giraffes at the drive-thru safari park, the pan of milk for the stray kitty, or even bird feeders in your back yard.

Feeding wild animals leads to:
[ol][li]‘Training’ the animals to be aggressive beggars.[/li][li]Removing the animals’ natural fear of humans.[/li][li]Altering normal migratory patterns.[/li][li]Creating an unnatural increase in population, throwing the local ecosystem out of whack.[/li][li]Killing the animals slowly through poisoning them with foods that are either bad for them (they can’t digest it) or lacking in the nutrients they need.[/ol][/li]#1 & #2 leads to unpleasant encounters with animals as they bite you during feeding or attack children (or try to invade your house).

#3 & #4 creates an unnatural dependence on you (or the steady stream of park/beach visitors) for their food. When humans don’t show up anymore (e.g., severe cold), the animals starve.

Never feed wild animals. Ever. Don’t even allow them the ability to get into your trash.


It’s nice to see from the above link that the USGSNPWRC agrees with me.

Polluted ponds can’t be good for the ducks either. Beaches are occasionally closed because of relatively high levels of human waste contamination.

moriah, the part about bird feeders is disputed. Two Cornell ornithologists responded to this point from an article (by a non-ornithologist) that originally ran in the Wall Street Journal: http://www.bayarea.com/mld/cctimes/living/4878708.htm

(This doesn’t really apply to your point, but FYI there is at least one place where you are allowed to feed the giraffes and some other animals. A number of years ago I went on one of the “photo caravans” offered by the San Diego Wild Animal Park. We fed the animals with raw fruit and vegetables provided by the zoo, obviously an approved supplement to the animals’ diets. I’m not sure if feeding the animals is still part of the tour.)

Did you know that when a duck quacks…


I don’t know if any park or wildlife official necessarily feeds these ducks. I was guessing that the park is used sort of as a sanctuary for injured birds, considering the number of ducks that live there which couldn’t survive in the wild, like the one which only has one wing. There’s one with a pitifully mangled leg, and another who only has one eye. It’d be pretty long odds for such a number of injured birds to come together naturally.

One Canada Goose has a collar with a number on it around his neck, so I’m assuming he’s being tracked in some way. (Not difficult to track, I’d say, because he hasn’t left the park for almost two years.)

The ducks sure act hungry. It’s getting cool, and school is in session, so not many people are down in the park during the day. When I pull my bag of bread out of the car, a swarm of ducks leaves the pond. They run toward me, honking and quacking loudly.

They don’t act that way in the summer, which is part of the reason I’ve been going down there. It pains me to think that these ducks may starve in the winter because they’ve become so acclimated to being fed by humans. If everyone stopped feeding them, would they go back to their natural ways, or would they starve because they’ve “forgotten” how to find food?

Not all of the ducks partake of my bounty of bread. Quite a few stay in the water, or run at my approach, so I’m assuming that the truly wild ones aren’t being fed.

About the pollution potential: I think our pond is filtered in some way. There’s a grate that appears to be some sort of intake, and a pipe which continually pours water into the pond. (The flow doesn’t appear to change after a rain, so I don’t think it’s drainage.)

Feeding a few dozen gimpy ducks bread will have absolutley no measureable impact on the duck/goose population as a whole or the pond’s ecology in the long run. How long will these birds live anyways?, and how many decades will the pond be around… considering it’s in a city park it’s not critical habitat for anything but park goers anyways.

No, on an indiviudal level getting fed bread on a regular long-term basis isn’t good for the ducks and can lead to the problems mentioned. Once in a while is no big deal, especially if they go days or weeks without; they’ll learn to find other things. Ducks aren’t quite like rats who’ll find a food source and breed so prolifically as to become vermin. If it makes you feel good you can feed the ducks once in a while - you won’t actually “hurt” them. But daily feedings, no.

Any animal destined to die a horrible lingering death from taking the occasional handout from a human (barring poison of course) is a goner anyways, and dispensing the odd 1/2 loaf of stale bread once a month won’t cause an appocalyptic crash in the city’s bird/water ecology. Hey, it’s just a few ducks; they’ll be fine.

Well, moriah is wrong about bird feeders, but makes some good posts.

It depends about these ducks- from what I gather from your post, these birds are full time residents of the pond, and no longer migrate. Although not domestic, they are no longer truly wild either. If they depend upon dudes feeding them to get their food, then you are doing a good act for the ducks by feeding them during the “off” season. Might not be the best thing for the pond, true, but it seems like it is polluted by duck crap anyway.

Note that you can get stale bread damn cheap from some bakery outlet stores. The ducks don’t care. Some “white” bread has better nutrients than “brown”. But if you could get some “whole grain” esp those with multi-grains, then it might be better for them.

Sometimes I wonder who is harming who?

I must admit I feed animals occasionally. Like my squirrel thread. <sarcasm> If they city doesn’t like me feeding their ducks and squirrels why do they put them there? </sarcasm>

Seriously though, I don’t think it hurts the animals as much as it makes them a nusiance. We used to have like two or three Canada Geese and you should see it now. They are all over the place. There droppings make certain areas unusable. This is similar to pigeons.

When I lived in Florida we used to have a lot of one legged Pelicans. They used to live by fighting the fisherman. In fact on Naples Pier there was (or is still) a sign that tells you how to unhook a Pelican from your fishing line. They swoop down on your fish.

Also those Egrets or Storks or whatever they are, those huge birds. I have actually seen old men fighting with them. They are using those long beaks and the old men are using their fishing poles, as the Egrets or Herons are trying to steal fish out of the pale. They are aggressive.

Squirrels are different as they are sooo cute.

I don’t eat white bread.

I don’t know how true this is, but in Frederick, MD you can not feed the ducks downtown. Well that part is true as they have signs up. Their reasoning is that it causes alge to grow which harms the lake. I don’t understand it but that is the reason given on the signs.

Depends on what you’re feeding them to.

There are people in my city who throw piles of bread slices and popcorn and stuff on the sidewalk and conjure up veritable cyclones of frenzied pigeons.

I just want to ask them: wouldn’t it make more sense just to throw the food away? Why do you want to pass it through a pigeon first, and convert it into pigeon shit? What part of that makes any sense at all?

Isn’t a person in great danger of being mistaken for a cold-war era spy when they feed ducks in the park?

Especially when I wear a trench coat, dark sunglasses, and call the ducks “comrad.”