Many birders were first introduced to the joys of wildlife by feeding ducks bread at a local park or pond. While we may have thought this was an environmentally responsible and cute way to dispose of old or stale scraps, bread is bad for ducks because it's unhealthy and potentially dangerous for birds and other wildlife.
Bread and similar products such as crackers, rolls, chips, crisps, donuts, crusts, cereal, and popcorn have little nutritional value for ducks, geese, swans, and other birds. Bread is the equivalent of junk food for birds. Just like humans would suffer from a diet of nothing but candy and sugar, too much bread can lead ducks to obesity, malnutrition, and many other problems.
Ducks need a balanced diet full of amino acids and vitamins—which they get from vegetables, whole grains, and berries—not highly processed baked goods. Read on to learn more about why bread is bad for ducks.
There are many toxic plants and foods that you should never feed ducks. Some of these items include avocadoes, green potatoes, onions, beans, nuts, and iceberg lettuce (but this is just a short list).
Watch Now: What Do Ducks Eat?
Why Is Bread Bad for Ducks and Geese?
Bread is fattening for ducks and waterfowl, making it harder for them to fly and otherwise evade predators. Feeding ducks bread can also lead to other serious problems that can make them sick.
- Duckling Malnutrition: Ducklings require a varied diet and plenty of natural plants and insect proteins to mature properly. If ducks are regularly fed bread, ducklings will not receive adequate nutrition for proper growth and development. Since ducks eagerly seek an easy food source, such as human handouts, ducklings will not learn to forage for natural foods.
- Overcrowding: Where an easy food source is abundant, ducks and other waterfowl will lay more eggs, and the pond or lake will quickly become overcrowded. This makes it more difficult for the birds to seek healthier food sources and increases the likelihood of territorial aggression. In crowded areas, predators can also thrive and impact other bird populations, and diseases can quickly spread through large flocks.
- Pollution: When too much bread is offered to ducks, not all of it will be eaten. Soggy, uneaten bread is an eyesore. Rotting bread and increased bird defecation can create noxious odors and lead to significant algae growth that can clog waterways and crowd out more desirable plants. This concentrates the pollution and can eventually eradicate fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and other life in the vicinity, making good food sources even scarcer.
- Diseases: Feeding ducks bread can increase the spread of infections in two ways. First, a carbohydrate-rich diet leads to greater defecation, and bird feces easily harbor bacteria responsible for numerous diseases, including avian botulism. Second, moldy bread can cause aspergillosis, a fatal lung infection that can decimate entire duck and waterfowl flocks.
- Pest Attraction: Rotting food left over from sated ducks will attract other unwelcome pests such as raccoons, rats, mice, and insects. These pests can also harbor diseases that harm humans and threaten other wildlife.
- Loss of Natural Behavior: When birds become accustomed to handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive to get more food. Their loss of fear can also cause other dangers, such as a willingness to cross busy roads to reach picnickers, dumpsters, and other likely food sources.
Offered as a rare treat in extreme moderation, bread is not immediately harmful to ducks or birds, but that moderation is hard to judge. While one person or family may only feed the ducks once every few months, many other families and individuals are feeding the ducks bread far more frequently. Adding all these well-meaning feeders together can lead to a diet based almost solely on unhealthy bread products.
Environmentally conscious birders agree it is best to stop offering bread or bread-like products to ducks to avoid nutritional problems and other issues caused by a carbohydrate-rich diet.
What to Feed Ducks Instead of Bread
Wild ducks and waterfowl can eat many things other than bread. Natural food sources such as aquatic plants, seeds, grasses, and insects will help them live longer, healthier lives than taking handouts from well-meaning humans. If you still want to feed the ducks snacks, which can be an enchanting experience, there are many healthier alternatives to offer instead of bread. Great foods you should feed ducks—in small portions—include:
- Grapes (cut in half to prevent choking)
- Barley, oats, birdseed, or other grains
- Duck feed pellets available from farm supply stores
- Cracked corn
- Frozen peas or corn kernels (defrosted first, but no need to cook)
These treat food portions should be small, especially if given to a duck for the first time. Never allow these snacks to exceed 10% of a duck's diet. Leafy green treats, such as weeds, cut grass, romaine lettuce, chard, etc., can be fed in unlimited amounts.
Use caution when feeding ducks corn. Ducks should only be fed what they can eat so the food doesn't rot, pollute the water and local environment, and attract vermin.
Alternatives to Feeding Ducks Bread
For many people, feeding ducks bread serves two purposes—a way to interact with wildlife and a handy way to dispose of old, stale bread without tossing it in the trash. However, the best way to use up stale bread without feeding it to ducks is to avoid having any leftover bread in the first place. Remember: Bread can be frozen until needed or purchased in moderation; don't unload it on birds.
Here are other helpful ways to dispose of unwanted bread:
- Add bread to a compost pile to create mulch and fertilizer for bird-friendly landscaping
- Make stale bread recipes, such as bread pudding or stuffing
- Toast stale bread for homemade croutons, bread crumbs, or garlic toast
- Using stale bread for crafts, such as making cookie-like decorations or playdough
Does bread bloat ducks?
Bread can make ducks bloated and lethargic, making it harder for them to flee from predators.
Is bread bad for all birds or just ducks?
Bread is hard to digest and has hardly any nutritional value for all types of wild and domestic birds.
What do wild ducks love to eat?
In the wild, a duck's natural diet consists of earthworms, snails, slugs, mollusks, small fish, fish eggs, small crustaceans, grass, herbaceous plants, leaves, aquatic plants, algae, amphibians, insects, seeds, grains, and berries.
Will ducks eat fish?
Ducks are omnivores and eat other animal proteins, like fish. They eat all types of fish and fish eggs, including salmon, trout, minnows, and eels.
Burt SA, Vos CJ, Buijs JA, Corbee RJ. Nutritional Implications of Feeding Free-living Birds in Public Urban Areas. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2021;105(2):385-393. doi:10.1111/jpn.13441
Things That Are Toxic to Ducks. Open Sanctuary.
Bad Idea: Feeding Bread to Ducks and Other Birds. National Audubon Society
Stop Feeding Waterfowl. New York State.
Save the Ducks! Don’t Feed Them. UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
Why Shouldn't We Feed Water Birds? University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.
Aspergillosis. Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Disease Laboratory.