Step 1: Stop feeding them bread.
Photo by Porsupah Ree via flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Are you feeding the ducks at your local pond pieces of stale bread? You might be contributing to their untimely demise, not to mention the deterioration of local ecosystems. That doesn't mean you need to stop feeding ducks – it just means you should be feeding them something else. Here's how to feed the birds and not be horrible about it.
According to the Canal and River Trust – the charity charged with tending some 2,000-miles of waterways throughout England and Wales – more than 6-million loaves of bread are thrown piece-by-piece into its canals and rivers every year. Who's tossing all those carbs in the drink? Good-natured folks, mostly, who are just trying to feed some waterfowl. As one does, you know?
But there's a dark side to this age-old pastime. The BBC reports that a diet rich in bread can cause wildfowl to become ill and develop physical deformities; meanwhile, undigested bread sinks, rots, and creates hot zones of bacteria and algae that can poison other species, attract rats, and provide a home for aspergillus – a mold that "can get into ducks' lungs, killing them":
Rotting bread exacerbates naturally occurring surface algae - which can give off toxins damaging to fish populations and create a stench for humans - by releasing more nitrates and phosphates. It also denies sunlight to underwater plants. And the bread eaten by birds creates more faeces, which has the same effect.
The nutrients can also encourage filamentous algae, which grow upwards from the bottom in chains or threads. The algae can slow down river flows, further deadening the environment.
The good news is that you don't need to stop feeding ducks. The Canal River Trust recommends feeding birds with "more natural treats" like oats, grapes, corn, seeds, defrosted frozen peas, and – this one surprised me, though the reason it did has been debunked – rice.
Other best practices for duck feeding include distributing your duck feed in small batches, and walking 50 meters along the water's edge, between handouts.