What To Feed Ducks: The Best and Worst Foods

Leave behind that loaf of bread next time you head to the duck pond.

healthy treats for ducks illo

Treehugger / Alex Dos Diaz

Most parks, ponds, and other public spaces have the same scene: A flock of wild birds, geese, and ducks, waiting as people gather around to feed them. Even though these wild fowl are perfectly capable of surviving on their own and foraging for food, they are still enticed by curious handouts. However, despite good intentions, most of the treats offered are not the best choices.

In nature, ducks survive on insects, seeds, aquatic plants, and grass. Humans will generally bring products that they themselves may like but are not beneficial for the ducks. The list below provides better, healthier alternatives. Remember: Even the tiniest action, like swapping out that small piece of food we give them, will help ducks on a larger scale.

Healthy Treats for Ducks

various healthy treats for ducks in glass jars, including loose lettuce, peas and pellets

Treehugger / Michaela Blaire

When giving ducks store-bought food that isn't part of their normal diet, keep in mind the nutritional information of the food. If it isn't that healthy for humans to eat, it's probably not good for a wild animal to eat either. Another thing to keep in mind is how a duck eats. They have no teeth and therefore can't chew or break down large pieces of food. Also, their digestive systems are not necessarily compatible with human food, so ingesting those foods could potentially cause disease, upset, blockage, or infection.

When in doubt, reference the following list the next time you head out to visit your local feeding ground.

child's outstretched hands hold fresh peas and pellets as healthy duck food

Treehugger / Michaela Blaire

  • Cracked corn: An easy-to-consume favorite among different bird species, cracked corn consists of corn kernels that have been dried and broken into smaller pieces. Avoid selecting any corn varieties that come with added flavoring, spices, or sweeteners.
  • Peas: Peas are another easy option that are quick to come by. Like the corn, be sure to thaw the vegetables first if grabbing a bag of frozen peas. Again, it's best to choose basic peas and nothing that comes with a sauce or seasoning.
  • Lettuce: An ordinary head of lettuce will go a long way with ducks. Lettuce leaves can be ripped into smaller pieces and are easy for the ducks to catch and digest. Any green produce that's similar to lettuce, like spinach or kale, can also be safely substituted.
  • Instant oats: Uncooked, organic oats are another easy treat for ducks. Like the vegetables, choose plain oats that haven't been coated with sugar or sweeteners. Rice is another great option that ducks like, and it's an easy food to share and spread around.
  • Seeds: If you have access to a wild bird store or co-op, duck-friendly seeds are an excellent option. Though it's an extra cost, these nutrient-dense formulas are specifically created for wild ducks and, therefore, present no risk of being harmful.
  • Pellets: Pellets are another good choice when it comes to foods that are geared toward a duck's natural diet. They can be purchased in various sizes and quantities, depending on the type of ducks you plan to feed, and are relatively low in cost.

Foods to Avoid

cereal, white bread, and potato chips are all unhealthy foods not fit for ducks

Treehugger / Michaela Blaire

The most common (and likely the worst) food humans give ducks is pieces of a loaf of bread. Processed bread is extremely filling and will expand in the duck's stomach. Even breads that might be considered nutritious for humans to consume do not provide nutritional value to ducks. While a tiny amount of bread may not cause drastic harm, ducks in public waterways are often being fed several times a day by different people. After a while, those quantities add up and may make the ducks less likely to go in search of their own healthy food in nature.

The following foods are best avoided when it comes to feeding any fowl:

  • Bread
  • Crackers
  • Potato chips
  • Popcorn
  • Cereal
  • Pastries or baked goods

Should You Feed Wild Ducks?

outstretched hand filled with pellet food with mallard ducks in background

Treehugger / Michaela Blaire

Humans want to feed wild animals for a variety of reasons: personal enjoyment, good intentions, and the animals may seem to need it. Whatever the motive, feeding a wild animal always comes with a caveat. We, as humans, don't want to intervene in the natural life cycle of wild animals that live entirely outdoors. Nor do we want to interrupt or change how and where these creatures look for food sources throughout each season. They could grow to be dependent and start relying on a supply that may not be consistent.

On the other hand, observing ducks in their natural habitats and taking time out to engage with them by offering some food can be a wonderful way to educate yourself about them. Learning what they eat, how their bodies are constructed, and how they live can be a means of admiring and appreciating that wild animal, too.

Quick Tips

  • Don't bring bread.
  • Choose foods that are most similar to a duck's natural diet such as peas, corns, and lettuce.
  • Respect their space.
  • Clean up any trash, fishing lines, or plastic products that you see in the environment around them.