Duck is the more common term for birds that have a short neck and large bills. They are also referred to as waterfowl. They belong to the family Anatidae, whose hind limbs have a distinct anatomic characteristic resulting to a waddling form of gait among species belonging to this family. Ducks are related to swans and geese that are also members of the same family. These birds are predominantly aquatic animals and are usually seen in ponds, lakes, freshwater and seawater. They can also be found in wetlands like marshes. Ducks have a webbed foot, which they use to move in their natural habitat. Ducks have a distinct feeding habit. They commonly shovel their food using their beaks. Sea ducks and diving ducks swim underwater to hunt for fish. On the other hand, dabbling ducks stay on the water surface and they feed on plants, insects and aquatic animals. Domestic ducks and mallards dive through water to gather their food.
Because of the popularity of ducks and their cosmopolitan distribution, it has been a commonplace for people to feed them with bread, whenever they are encountered at lakes, beaches and parks. However, it is not well known that this popular practice can cause detrimental effects to ducks and the environment. In fact, domestic laws have been passed in Australia, United States and United Kingdom to discourage this practice. This article aims to review why this common habit should be stopped.
Waterfowl, ducks and members of its family naturally feed on aquatic plants, fish, water insects, natural grains and invertebrates. These foods are rich in protein and are packed with nutrients. Bread, on the other hand is not part of the natural diet of ducks. Bread is rich in carbohydrates and feeding these to ducks can cause poor nourishment ultimately leading to malnutrition. Frequent feeding with carbohydrate-rich diet predisposes ducks to obesity. This occurs when the energy source of the diet overrides the energy demands that are usually required of normal metabolic bodily functions and physical activities. Aside form the poor nutritional content of bread; ducks also become reliant on humans for food if they become accustomed to being fed with bread. As a result, ducks deviate from their normal feeding patterns and they need less physical activities for hunting of natural food. This increases the risk of acquiring obesity among ducks. In addition, this also results to more aggressive behavior because they adapt to the presence of humans and eventually lose their natural fear of them. Because of this, the natural migratory patterns of ducks become altered since they preferentially thrive at places where food is readily available. This becomes a threat to biodiversity in places where they are supposed to migrate at. Feeding birds by throwing bread at them also enables them to be accustomed to this feeding pattern. As a result, ducks acquire the habit of swallowing any material that was thrown at them. This may include substances that are toxic for consumption, like garbage for instance.
Poor nutrition predisposes ducks to have a compromised immune system, making them prone to avian diseases and infections. High-carbohydrate diets among ducks increase the risk of acquiring Clostridium infections. This gives rise to gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea and loss of appetite due to fermentation of gas as a consequence of carbohydrate-rich diet. Feeding ducks also enables them to defecate in aquatic environments, which accelerates the spread of disease. Viral enteritis is a disease among ducks that is transmissible through ingestion of contaminated water. Abnormal feeding patterns that are seen when humans feed ducks with bread also results to overcrowding. Ducks tend to thrive at sites where food will be artificially provided. This also causes increased spread of diseases due to overcrowding. In fact, there have been documented outbreaks of fatal diseases like Avian Botulism, Avian influenza, Avian Cholera and Duck plague in areas where hand feeding of bread by humans is commonly practiced.
Aside from acquiring these infections, ducks can also develop a disease called “Angel Wing” as a result of poor nourishment from feeding on bread. This disease is medically referred to as a carpometacarpal deformity that primarily affects flight feathers and characteristically causes wings to be wrongly positioned. Because of this illness, ducks lose the natural ability to fly.
People usually feed ducks on parks, beaches and ponds. Since this is unnatural for them, ducks defecate in their aquatic habitats and may potentially cause water pollution. Fecal material of ducks usually contains bacteria that are harmful to other animals and humans, when accidentally ingested. Aside from bacterial contamination, areas with concentrated amounts of bird droppings also gives rise to accelerated growth of molds and plant algae that further causes pollutes aquatic resources. As a result, these environments that used to be conducive for recreational activities are no longer available for this purpose.
Bread has low nutritional value and is not a natural food for ducks and waterfowls. Efforts should be made to prohibit the common practice of feeding ducks with bread because it leads has unwanted consequences that is detrimental to both avian health and our environment.