What Do Ducks Eat In Wild? Plus What To Feed Them
The difference between what ducks eat in the wild, and what they get fed in parks and ponds is not only huge. But it’s also the question of a major scientific study and argument (one faction is all for banning the feeding of ducks in ponds by the general public. They say ducks should only be fed by a park official who understands the ducks dietary needs to remain healthy.
This is because ducks in ponds in our towns and cities are fed too much bread, and bread alone is not a healthy diet. Yes we all need carbohydrates, ducks included but not as our only source of food. And that’s the problem, there’s no control on the amount of people feeding bread to the ducks. Which leads to bad health in ducks and many more health problems besides.
Why Should You Not Feed Bread To The Ducks On Your Local Pond?
As we said above, too much bread is bad for ducks and we have no control on how much bread the ducks are consuming. What we do know is that in England and Wales visitors to local parks feed wild ducks around 3 and a half million loaves of bread per year. The ducks are happy to eat the bread and in many cases they are a little too eager and will even beg for bread,
What’s Wrong With Feeding Ducks Bread?
Firstly ducks are wild animals, and in the wild they have to forage for food. This keeps them alert, fit and it keeps their body weight at a healthy level. As they forage they are eating a varied and balanced diet that helps them maintain their natural waterproof feathers, keeps their eyesight in perfect condition, and their environment will not get over crowded with more wildfowl than it can support naturally.
Feeding ducks bread is popular with young children, because the ducks readily eat it and will often leave the water and beg for more bread. Whilst this keeps the kids happy, it is actually leading the ducks and other waterfowl down the path to destruction. Here’s why:
- Bread Is The Equivalent Of Junk Food
Apart from a very few micro-nutrients, bread is pure carbohydrates. Ducks, like people, enjoy these carbohydrates and they will fill up on them. Leaving no space for any healthy food. They will eventually (like people) become obese and unable to perform normal daily activities. This leads to them not being able to fly, not being able to escape predators and it also leads to malnutrition which can cause birth deformities in their young.
- Over Feeding With Bread Attracts More Birds Than The Environment Can Support
This leads to an overcrowding of the pond. Which in turn causes health issues with the risk of infections spreading faster due to the close proximity of the occupants of the pond and its surrounds. Too many birds competing for too little space and not enough natural food will cause the outbreaks of arguments and fights with the losing duck having to leave the area in an injured condition. So their chances of survival aren’t great.
- Any Leftover Bread Will Either Attract Rodents Or Pollute The Water As It Rots
Rotting bread in the water along with the extra amount of bird droppings, can create algae blooms which deplete the water of oxygen. Once the oxygen has gone, a condition known as “hypoxia” kills any plant and animal life in the pond. The ducks have no natural food to forage for, and the water will start to smell pretty bad too.
Any waste bread left on the land around the pond will spoil making it dangerous for the ducks to eat and this can be fatal to ducks and other birds. The mould that forms on bread can cause a type of lung disease that’s specific to ducks and it will cause loss of life.
- Unnatural Sources Of Food Can Cause Other Waterfowl To Not Migrate.
Birds who migrate do so because they have to move to warmer climes in order to survive. But they forget to leave when they’re getting fed a load of junk food every day. They either don’t migrate at all, or they leave late and don’t get to their Winter home.
What Do Ducks Eat In The Wild?
Wild ducks and other waterfowl feed on a variety of food that is readily available in their habitat, they don’t need 3.5 million loaves of bread per year to supplement their diet. During the course of an average day, ducks will eat:
- Pond Weed
- Water Snails
- Small Fish
- Frog Spawn
You’ve probably seen ducks, swans and other waterfowl ducking under the water and feeding from the bottom. This is how they are supposed to live, it’s their natural way to feed and it creates a balanced, healthy diet. So if you want to take your children down to the local pond to feed the ducks, that’s great. As long as you feed them the right food, it’s also a great opportunity to educate your children on what ducks should be fed and the reasons why bread’s not a good food for ducks.
What Should You Feed To Ducks?
There are some foods that can be given to ducks and other waterfowl that are probably already in your food cupboards and others that can easily be obtained from pet food stores or online suppliers. They include:
Dried corn or fresh corn both are acceptable as duck food. It’s OK to use frozen corn that’s been defrosted, or fresh corn straight from the cob. Just be sure to remove the corn from the cob before feeding it to the ducks. If you use dried corn it should be coarsely ground to make it easier for the ducks to eat.
Uncooked oats can be fed to ducks, plus they enjoy barley, wheat, and other similar types of grains.
Any types of bird seeds are suitable for feeding to ducks including: sunflower seeds, millet, and any other bird seed mix.
Ducks will eat many types of berries including; blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Always make sure to cut grapes into quarters before giving them to the ducks to make them easier to eat.
- Duck Feed (pellets)
Duck feed pellets will float on top of the water for about 60 minutes before sinking which will reduce any waste that sinks to the bottom of the pond to rot.
Ducks can safely eat cooked or raw rice as can other waterfowl.
Ducks and other waterfowl really enjoy melons. All types of melons are suitable to feed to aquatic birds.
- Fruit (except citrus)
Ducks will eat quartered apples and pears (deseeded), and bananas. Never feed any citrus fruit to the ducks, that’s oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruit or any other citrus fruit because for one thing they cause acid reflux in ducks causing stomach pains. And citrus is supposed to interfere with calcium absorption which can lead to thin eggshells.
- Vegetable Scraps
Chop any of the following into small pieces before feeding them to the ducks. Carrot peels, cucumber pieces, radish tops, lettuce and other salad greens like rocket etc. Never feed ducks potato peel or tomatoes, peppers, aubergines (egg plants) or any other members of the nightshade family as they contain toxins that can have a harmful effect on ducks and other waterfowl.
Ducks and other waterfowl will eat fresh peas or defrosted peas.
Ducks should be able to find their own worms but it is quite acceptable for you to feed them mealworms or earthworms.
What Should You Not Feed To Ducks?
There are many foodstuffs that should not be fed to ducks and other waterfowl these include:
We’ve already covered this above but just to recap, bread is something birds, ducks and other waterfowl will eat willingly. But bread is not very nutritious and as it is almost all carbohydrates, it will lead to obesity and can cause deformity in future generations.
As members of the nightshade family, potatoes are toxic to ducks. They contain a natural compound called solanine which can cause diarrhea , destroy red blood cells, and cause heart failure.
As members of the same family as potatoes, the above information also applies to tomatoes. Never feed tomatoes, or tomato leaves or stalks to ducks.
- Aubergines (Egg Plants)
More members of the nightshade family and should not be fed to ducks or other aquatic birds.
- Bell Peppers
Also members of the nightshade family, take care when taking kitchen scraps to the ducks that there are no pieces of bell peppers or any other members of the nightshade family hidden amongst the scraps.
Much like citrus fruits, spinach can restrict calcium absorption which can cause problems with the egg shells being too thin. This can cause premature hatching and death to chicks.
- Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg lettuce is OK to feed to ducks in small amounts, but it can cause diarrhea and is of low nutritional value.
- Dried Beans
Beans have a natural insecticide called phytohemagglutinin that affects red blood cells in a way that can kill the ducks. If you sprout the beans first it destroys phytohemagglutinin and the beans are safe to eat for us as well as the ducks.
- Raw Beans
The act of cooking the beans kills off the phytohemagglutinin so only feed cooked beans to the ducks.
Crackers are in the same category as bread, just empty calories and often too much salt.
Too much salt, and made from potatoes, with low nutritional value.
Technically, popcorn is just cooked corn and as ducks can eat corn, it should be OK. But, once it’s been “popped” it becomes a different type of food and it’s classified as similar to bread. Plus, it will have been cooked in oil, with added butter, sugar and salt plus the packaging can contain other chemicals, you can see where we are going with this, just don’t give popcorn to ducks.
- Apple Or Pear Seeds
It’s fine to feed chopped up apples and pears but remember to core them first. Because the seeds contain cyanide, only in trace amounts but it can build up.
The leaves of rhubarb are poisonous to animals and humans alike. Plus the stalks contain a compound called oxalic acid which can cause problems with eggshells being too soft.
Onions and all members of the allium family including: garlic, spring onions, chives etc contain a chemical called thiosulfate that can kill red blood cells. This can cause anemia at best and death at worst.
Any part of the avocado (skin, flesh or pip) contains a chemical compound called Persin which causes myocardial necrosis which means the death of parts of the heart which can cause death. According to veterinarians, just 5% of avocado can kill a small duck in 2 days.
Apart from the fact that ducks don’t come across chocolate in the wild, and it’s full of sugar, chocolate can kill ducks. It contains theobromine and caffeine which can kill ducks, these chemicals are easily dealt with in the human body, but ducks bodies can’t cope with them.
Theobromine and caffeine can adversely affect the digestive system in ducks. This leads to sickness, diarrhea and the complete breakdown of their nervous system.
Caffeine will raise the ducks blood pressure which can cause heart problems, and possible death.
- Fried Foods
Fried foods are not particularly healthy for humans to eat, but we can deal with the effects on our body to some extent but ducks can’t. Ducks should only be fed food that is natural for ducks to eat.
- Salty Foods
Ducks and birds cannot digest salt. It affects their nervous system and is toxic to them in large quantities.
How To Feed Wild Ducks Responsibly
Hopefully by now, you are a lot more knowledgeable about what to and what not to feed to wild ducks and other wildfowl. So now let’s go through the right way to feed the ducks.
Be Safe Near The Water’s Edge
It sounds obvious but if you’re near water, you’re potentially in danger, especially if you’ve brought children with you. You need to keep an eye on the children at all times whilst distributing the food to excited children and hungry ducks.
Only Feed Ducks Where You Are Permitted To
Before you start with the duck feed, take a good look for any signs from the pond’s owner specifically about feeding the ducks. There’s a strong possibility of there being a sign about not feeding the ducks bread, but hopefully. If you’ve got this far. You weren’t going to feed them bread anyway.
Only Feed The Ducks The Correct Food
Don’t feed them anything that’s bad for them, only give the ducks healthy foods as listed above. We won’t go over it all again, you should know what to feed them by now.
Don’t Encourage The Ducks And Other Wildfowl To Fight
If there are others feeding the ducks, try to find a space that is uncrowded and start feeding there. Some of the stragglers will be grateful for the easy access to food. Feed sparingly, don’t keep throwing the food into the water (or on the surrounding land) if it is not being eaten. Also try to remember, ducks are natural foragers, spoiling them once in a while can lead to them losing their ability to forage.
Try To Encourage The Ducks To Stay In The Water
While they remain in the water, there is less chance of them getting attacked by predators. Also inquisitive dogs can cause distress to wildfowl. You can’t stop the birds from leaving the water, but you can encourage them to stay in the water by scattering their food onto the water.
Take Your Litter Home
You already know this, but litter is a big problem, especially for wildlife. If you took your duck food to the pond in plastic bags or containers, take them home and recycle them responsibly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Foods that are poisonous to ducks include: chocolate, avocados, dried or uncooked beans, onions,caffeine, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, spinach, and any citrus fruits, like oranges, tangerines, grapefruits and lemons.
In most cases it is unnecessary to feed wild ducks as they can usually find enough food through foraging.
As long as they are salt free, ducks can eat canned peas.
Ducks do eat small fish in the wild.