Don't Feed Bread To Birds

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Feeding bread to birds is a pastime as old as extra bread. But while birds are happy to scoop up your stale offerings, there are a lot of reasons why this is a bad idea.

Redditor u/llcucf80 posted a somewhat confusing and ultimately contentious statement to r/LifeProTips about how bread is bad for birds:

Do not feed ducks bread. Bread provides no nutrition for them, and they could end up being fat and starving at the same time.

Birdseed, frozen corn or peas (thaw first), oats, and other greens (torn up small so they can eat them) provide the best nutritional value to them. But please do not feed ducks bread. It provides no nutrition, so they end up being fat and essentially starving at the same time.

In other words, the nutritional value of bread is low; a duck or goose might fill themselves up with it, but it’s not providing them with what they need to be healthy waterfowl. Sort of like if you just lived on croutons your entire life. You might stay alive, but you’d have problems.

In the comments, u/Tedwiththehat took a strong stance against the No Bread For Birds tip, quoting a Facebook post from the Swan Sanctuary in the UK, in which The Queen’s Swan Marker, David Barber, inexplicably encourages people to keep feeding the swans:

“There has been a great deal of press coverage in recent months regarding the ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign which is confusing many members of the public who like to feed swans. Supporters of the campaign claim that bread should not be fed to swans on the grounds that it is bad for them. This is not correct. Swans have been fed bread for many hundreds of years without causing any ill effects. While bread may not be the best dietary option for swans compared to their natural food such as river weed, it has become a very important source of energy for them, supplementing their natural diet and helping them to survive the cold winter months when vegetation is very scarce.”

OK, let’s break this down.

Bread is not a bird’s natural diet ever

Barber is correct that giving a starving bird bread is probably better than giving them nothing at all—maybe. But most of us are not trained to recognise a starving bird, and a bunch of geese rushing towards you at a pond where everyone feeds the birds is not an indication that they are starving. It just means they know that’s where they can get food, which is an additional problem to feeding them; as the Canadian Wildlife Federation warns, they lose their foraging instincts:

Ducks naturally eat a nutrient-rich diet that may consist of insect larvae and other aquatic invertebrates, small fishes, amphibians, as well as seeds and aquatic plants. Bread and similar products such as chips, doughnuts, popcorn and crackers provide very little nutritional value.

Ducks that are regularly fed bread can become malnourished, aggressive towards one another, may lose their foraging instincts and can lose their natural fear of people.

Even if the nutritional issues are minimal (they’re really not), the overall effect on the animal is bad.

Leftover bread is also bad for them

If a bird lives in a pond or lake where they are commonly fed bread, other issues may arise. Bread that doesn’t get snapped up by clever beaks doesn’t just evaporate into the air. There’s no clean up crew. It settles into the water; the CWF also mentions that this can lead to a build up of algae in their environment. ABC Radio Perth reported on an even grimmer circumstance in which the higher nutrient level in the water created a bacteria in the soil that lead to avian botulism:

Nicole Davey, environmental coordinator at Belmont Council, said feeding bread to birds contributes to higher nutrient levels in the water, which in turn leads to an increase in the soil bacteria that causes avian botulism.

“So when the birds eat snails and worms that are in the mud, they become infected with the bacteria, when releases a toxin that causes them to become paralysed, and eventually they die,” she said.

You’re not just messing with the bird’s diet—you’re messing with their whole eco-system, and the other creatures great and small who are living there, too.

It causes overcrowding

Birds aren’t actually evolved to consume food in a screaming mass at your feet. As Mother Nature Network reports, competing over crumbs is stressful for them:

Ducks and geese naturally find habitats that offer enough food, but handouts can lure large crowds to areas that wouldn’t normally support them. Natural foods are also widely scattered, letting birds eat in relative privacy, while competition is often fierce and stressful at artificial feeding sites.

They also create far more poop in a big group! Which adds to some of the environmental issues outlined above and increases the chances of spreading disease. And when it comes to teaching their own ducklings to forage as normal, they might become too bread-obsessed to properly do so, preventing the next generation from eating as nature intended.

It might be causing Angel Wing

There is a condition among birds, primarily ducks and geese, called Angel Wing, which causes a bird to grow a malformed wing. There is a lot of debate about whether or not being fed junk food and bread is the primary reason for this issue, because there isn’t an enormous amount of research. However, the waterfowl most commonly found with the condition are usually in close proximity to humans, as One Green Planet reports, in areas where they are fed bread from a young age. They’re usually birds with severe nutritional deficiencies. Is it really worth keeping a bird from flying just to feed it crusts?

What you should feed them instead

There are some birds that are already trained to expect food from humans; they’re not flying south for winter, even though they’re supposed to. Or maybe you just think the ritual of feeding wildlife is something you can’t give up, even though almost all wildlife foundations say you should.

In that case, you can feed water birds food bought at an actual pet store, like duck pellets. You can also give them whole corn kernels or oats, if you want to fatten them up, or defrosted carrots and peas. If you have leftover greens, like lettuce, those will be a hit if chopped into bird-mouth-manageable pieces. But please, consider the circumstance of the animals first. You might think you’re just one person meditatively feeding an animal, but there’s a long line behind you.


Comments

    Bread that doesn’t get snapped up by clever beaks doesn’t just evaporate into the air. There’s no clean up crew.

    This isn't true in a lot of cases because where you find ducks and other water birds you'll probably find fish, and the fish will generally eat what the birds don't.

    Stop Being So F'ing Sanctimonious.

    The amount of these trite posts that start with Stop Doing.. is making LH sound quite holier than thou. And inexplicably stupid.
    I'm really looking forward to see what entertaining conclusions the next Stop Doing article is going to present. Please, pleeeease keep them coming, because they are hilarious..

    Whilst the gist of this article is correct, most of the extrapolated information is either muddled or downright wrong.

    Like most communal animals, birds have lived alongside humans for as long we've created static housing, for the same reason they do today - easier access to food.
    You can be pretty confident waterfowl were fed food in excess in the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, much as they are today.
    The main difference is that humans have now effectively removed most of their other dining options within a localised area, in the noble progression of housing, roads and shopping malls.
    Conveniently, we've also removed a lot of their natural habitats as well, ensuring that they either move on to another suitable area, or adapt to their home turf, in the concessionary ponds and ornamental gardens.

    If the birds aren't migrating, it's less to do with the prospect of getting some yummy Hovis, and more to do with them missing the ecological markers that would normally initiate the traversal, such as colder weather.

    If algae is blooming to a toxic level - contact the council.
    Natural ponds and lakes balance this pH imbalance out by having regular top ups of water, but artificial ponds only get this from rainfall, and have a much smaller catchment area, thus require regular maintenance.
    Chances are the numerous shopping trolleys, motor oil containers, cigarette butts and variety of cans and chocolate wrappers swirling around in the water are also causing problems.

    Birds, in general, are not going to have problems if you are feeding them in your backyard, as what you feed them will be 10-20% of their diet - unless you're consistently leaving a bucket of food out there for them.

    Other gems of ignorance:
    "competing over crumbs"
    Wait.. we're either feeding them too much, or just crumbs - which one is it ?

    "in which the higher nutrient level in the water created a bacteria"
    So, like natural occurrences when animals die in the water ? Or when fruit get washed into the water from a storm ? Or when the sunlight to rainfall ratio is uneven ?
    Typical of the council - blaming everyone else

    "There’s no clean up crew."
    So the multitude of snails, waterborne insects, and other associated lifeforms that specifically dine on detritus, have selectively chosen not to eat bread ?
    How about those duck pellets you're recommending ?

    "may lose their foraging instincts and can lose their natural fear of people"
    The birds are actually living on an artificial water feature in close proximity to humans, traffic and noise. They've already lost that fear.

    "Natural foods are also widely scattered, letting birds eat in relative privacy".
    Whilst this summons a picture of civilised avian dining, the behavioural reality is far different.
    Birds are a group entity, and survive by sticking together in a flock.
    If one bird finds a food source, you can bet the others are going to home in on it as well, and if the area is small enough, or the amount of birds exceeds the feeding area, competition ensues.

    The average mum who is out with her kid(s) isn't going to take into consideration the dietary considerations of the ducks/geese/swans/whatever in front of her. She's just wanting to a) have a nice time with the kid(s), and b) get them to have some limited engagement with nature, given we are so divorced from it now.

    Additionally, most people are at work during daylight hours, and typically go to the park on the weekends, and maybe lunchtimes. So whilst waterfowl will binge on the weekends, what the hell do you think they are eating Mon- Fri ?

    The problem is not bread.

      Agree. Similar to another article on bird feeding elsewhere here. I think society is getting to a point where it needs someone to tell us how to breathe! Its PC this or that or some rule or advice and its stifling peoples initiative. Information overload and just too many 'degrees' trying to justify their existence and power. This generation and the previous one are very unimaginative, we can see where the lack of initiative comes from. Bring back the barnstorming days when Australians would just 'have a go'.

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