Just watching ducks in a pond can be good for you, thanks to benefits of biophilia like reduced anxiety and increased creativity. Lots of people try to return the favor by tossing food to waterfowl, typically bread. In England and Wales alone, park visitors feed wild ducks an estimated 6 million loaves of bread every year. Yet despite the ducks' gusto, bread is mostly bad for them. It can lead to health woes like obesity, malnutrition and possibly a crippling condition known as "angel wing." Too much free food of any kind may also endanger ducklings just by teaching them to beg rather than forage. Even the bread they don't eat can hurt local water quality.
Wildlife advocates in the U.S. and U.K. have been pushing this issue for years, both to protect waterfowl and the ponds, lakes and rivers where they live. In hopes of helping ducks everywhere rise above their doughy debauchery, here are three reasons why bread is not for the birds — plus a few alternative foods that do fit the bill:
1. Bread is crummy for birds' health.
Ducks' natural foods vary by species, but most have a pretty diverse diet. Mallards, for example, eat a mix of plants and seeds as well as insects, worms, snails and crustaceans. Bread may offer calories, but it has few of the nutrients ducks can get from their environment. And once you're full of bread, who wants to forage?
"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," a spokeswoman with the U.K. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) told the Guardian earlier this year.
And in young birds, malnutrition may lead to angel wing, a deformity in which wings jut out instead of folding up, often making flight impossible. This can occur due to a high-calorie diet, especially if it's low in vitamin D, vitamin E and manganese. The combination of extra energy and inadequate nutrients makes a bird's wings outgrow its wrist joints, causing disfigurement that's usually incurable by adulthood. The relative prevalence of angel wing at some parks is often blamed on bread...