Eco Junk Food

Many of us would have first been introduced to the joys of the wildfowl world by feeding ducks bread at a local park or pond. It’s long been a favourite family pastime that dates back to the 19th century and gives children the chance to connect with nature. However it is now thought that we are doing more harm than good, especially for the Eco-system.

It’s long been known that processed white bread fed to wildfowl on a large scale can cause them to become very ill and, in some cases, deformed. But now we are becoming increasingly warned that the harmless act of feeding bread to ducks is not only damaging the species health but the whole ecosystem. Ecosystems are very important, even if it is in an urban area. By one change within the ecosystem, everything else can be changed and, in some cases, destroyed.

Ducks Health

Many think that they’re doing a lovely thing by feeding the ducks some bread. But they forget that they could be one of twenty people doing the same thing that day. Not only can bread be fattening to ducks and make it harder for them to fly and otherwise escape predators, feeding ducks bread can also lead to other problems. Here are three reasons why the ducks health is affected.

Firstly, Duckling malnutrition. In an area where ducks are regularly fed, ducklings will not receive the proper nutrition for proper growth and development. Also, because ducks will naturally seek out an easy source such as human handouts, ducklings will not learn to forage for natural foods easily. This can lead to them starving to death.

Secondly, overcrowding. When an easy food source is abundant, ducks and other wildfowl will lay more eggs and the pond or lake will become overcrowded. This can lead to a number of problems including birds then find it much more difficult to seek out healthier food sources which increases the likelihood of things like territorial aggression.

Third but not least, Disease. There are several diseases that feeding ducks bread can increase the spread of. First, a carbohydrate-rich diet leads to greater defecation, and bird faeces easily harbour bacteria responsible for numerous diseases, including avian botulism. Another is aspergillosis. By eating mouldy bread it can cause a fatal lung infection that can decimate entire duck and wildfowl flocks. One last disease is something known as Angel Wing. This is deformed wing growth which stops birds from flying. This is more obvious and you often see it with Canadian Geese when feathers on their wings are sticking right out.

Damage to the entire ecosystem

Every year we feed six million loaves of bread to ducks in England and Wales. Obviously not all of this bread is eaten by ducks and therefore it falls to the waters bottom and causes wider havoc. This is when algae and bacteria blooms resulting in poisoning other species as well as attracting unwanted vermin. It can also trigger noxious odours and fuel algae that can eventually eradicate fish, and other underwater species, from the area.

Rotting bread exacerbates naturally occurring surface algae which can give off toxins damaging to fish populations and create a stench for humans. 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 filmentous algae, which grows upwards from the bottom in chains and threads. The algae can slow down river flows, further deadening the environment.

As the ducks are opting for the easy meal they aren’t eating the natural things that they should, not only does this mean that they’re getting a bad diet but also they’re not keeping the local ecosystem in check.

In areas where there is an abundance of people feeding breed to ducks other wildfowl, species which prefer not to eat bread, can suffer too. Due to the bottom of the pool, river, canal etc is affected by the build up of bread and bacteria this can obviously affect plant growth and fish populations. These plants normally eaten by other species are disturbed and the species that eat them are pushed elsewhere.

It isn’t fair to say that bread is the main problem but it has a massive effect on not only the health of wildfowl but also other species and the ecosystem in these areas.

Attraction of unwanted species

In some areas, especially urban areas, vermin such as rats are unwanted as they can cause further problems. Decomposing bread can attract rats whose urine transmits Weil’s Disease which can be deadly to humans.

The joy of feeding the ducks

As you can see feeding ducks bread has a profound effect on their health and the environment. However I remember going out when I was younger and feeding the ducks, it was always a magical moment and a great way to interact with the natural world. This is something that SHOULDN’T stop. In some towns the council has started fining people if they’re caught feeding the ducks, I don’t agree with this. Instead of this we should make the simple change of not feeding them bread but other food. It seems as though feeding ducks bread has become a fashionable thing and people feel as though they’re doing a good thing but they’re not. Changing the food they offer though can make all the difference. Also it’s vital that children carry on interacting with the natural world from a young age.

Below are a list of foods that are much better to offer to wildfowl then bread:

  • Bird seed
  • Oats
  • Mealworms
  • Chopped vegetable trimmings or peels
  • Defrosted frozen peas.

 Arguments against

Obviously this is a controversial subject as it affects a lot of different people and since I had an article published in my local paper this week about it I’ve had a lot of comments. Some include:

But I’ve been feeding the ducks all my life – Yes, feeding the ducks is a tradition that has been going since the 19th century. But all because we’ve been doing it for this long doesn’t mean that we were right and can’t stop. Perhaps if we were to stop feeding bread to ducks it would make them healthier, improve water quality, and,especially in urban areas,make areas more wildlife rich which young children would be able to enjoy even more, along with still being able to feed the ducks. But as I stated before, there is more to do than stop feeding ducks bread.

Other food isn’t as fun – Well you may think this but the main reason behind this is that it’s something that has gone on for a long time. Food like chopped up carrots, frozen peas and bird seed are just as convenient to buy as bread and I’m sure the ducks will be just as happy, if not more so!

I’ve got better things to worry about within the natural world then feeding ducks bread – You may think this but all of us can help change the environment by doing little things. Like feeding the wildfowl different foods.

You can read the online article that I had in my local newspaper here –


Hen Harrier Day 2014.

Today, 10th August, is Hen Harrier Day. It is organised by a coalition of Birders Against Wildlife Crime, former RSPB Conservation Director and leading activist Mark Avery, broadcaster and conservationist Chris Packham, the country’s leading wildlife charity the RSPB, and the North West Raptor Protection Group.

Just a few hundred years ago Hen Harriers were a widespread and common bird of prey. Now, in 2014 only three have bred. In 2013 the last remaining Hen Harriers didn’t manage to raise one chick and who knows what will happen to the chicks of this year.

Hen Harriers have been illegally shot since driven shooting first became popular by Queen Victoria in the 1800’s. Grouse shooting takes place between the 12th of August and the 10th of December each year and moors are managed year-round in preparation for this. Species like red grouse are entirely dependent on heather for food and shelter. Unlike pheasants they can not bred in captivity. Instead gamekeepers are employed to manage the habitat by burning patches of heather to create a mosaic of old strands for nesting and young plants for the birds to eat. They also carry out illegal and legal activity and intense control of generalist predators such as foxes, crows, stoats, weasels and birds of prey like our endangered Hen Harriers.

Last year I was out walking with my Granddad near where I live in Staffordshire in a horrible downpour. All of a sudden a large grey bird flew over our heads, at first I thought it may have been a seagull because of the noise it was making but it was much bigger. When I got home I discovered that it was in fact a male hen harrier. The next day I went back to the place where I had seen it and I returned quite a few times after that too. On a couple of occasions I managed to see the bird again but it was from a distance. However I still felt, and still do now, extremely privileged to have seen the bird as I may not ever see one ever again. Here’s a reason why you should get involved and help our Hen Harriers.

To help and get involved you can follow either one of these links for more information, to sign the petition against driven grouse shooting and much more.

henharrierA male hen harrier – taken by Pete Walkden. You can see more of his bird of prey, including hen harrier, images here –