4 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Feed Bread to Ducks

Bread can have a foul effect on waterfowl, but other food in your pantry may fit the bill.

woman feeds white bread to gang of ducks

Treehugger / Christian Yonkers 

Just watching ducks in a pond can be good for you, thanks to benefits of biophilia like reduced anxiety and increased creativity. Lots of people try to return the favor by tossing food to waterfowl, typically bread. In England and Wales alone, park visitors feed wild ducks an estimated 3.5 million loaves of bread every year.

Yet despite the ducks' gusto, bread isn't the best choice to feed them. Ducks need a varied diet. Too much free food of any kind may endanger ducklings by teaching them to beg rather than forage, which can lead to malnutrition. Even the bread they don't eat can hurt local water quality.

Wildlife advocates in the U.S. and U.K. have been pushing this issue for years, both to protect waterfowl and the ponds, lakes, and rivers where they live. In hopes of helping ducks everywhere rise above their doughy debauchery, here are four reasons why bread is not for the birds—plus, a few alternative foods that do fit the bill.

Bread Is Bad for Bird Health

brown female duck lunges for white bread
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

Ducks' natural foods vary by species, but most have a pretty diverse diet. Mallards, for example, eat a mix of plants and seeds as well as insects, worms, snails, and crustaceans. Bread may offer calories, but it has few of the nutrients ducks can get from their environment—this is especially the case for white bread, which has the lowest nutritional value. Once they're full of bread, they no longer want to forage.

Some experts suggest that in young birds, malnutrition may lead to angel wing, a deformity in which wings jut out instead of folding up, often making flight impossible. This can occur due to a high-calorie diet, especially if it's low in vitamin D, vitamin E, and manganese. The combination of extra energy and inadequate nutrients makes a bird's wings outgrow its wrist joints, causing disfigurement that's usually incurable by adulthood.

The relative prevalence of angel wing at some parks is often blamed on bread, even though some experts say angel wing and bread eating are totally unrelated.

Problems Associated With Overcrowding

flock of ducks in grassy park
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

Ducks and geese naturally find habitats that offer enough food, but handouts can lure large crowds to areas that wouldn't normally support them. While natural foods are widely scattered, allowing birds to eat in relative privacy, competition is often fierce and stressful at artificial feeding sites.

Highly concentrated areas can also become a health risk; too many birds means too many droppings. As the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation points out, "diseases generally not transmissible in a wild setting find overcrowded and unsanitary conditions very favorable."

Behavioral Changes

Feeding ducks may also spur other negative changes in the birds' behavior. When adult ducks become obsessed with free bread, for example, they may fail to give their ducklings a sufficient education in foraging, thus committing them to lives spent begging. Once birds are dependent on handouts, they tend to lose their fear of humans and behave more aggressively.

On a much larger scale, artificial feeding has been known to shorten or even eliminate migration patterns of waterfowl. They may be reluctant to leave a reliable food source despite the onset of winter, and then struggle to survive as temperatures fall—especially if the cold temperatures keep their human feeders indoors.

Bread Pollution

duck swims in green pond
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

Some of the bread we toss to waterfowl inevitably escapes their grasp. If enough calorie-rich foods accumulate in a pond, they—along with all those extra duck droppings—can trigger algae blooms that deplete oxygen from the water. Known as hypoxia, this can wipe out pond life and rob birds of natural food supplies.

On land, any leftovers lying around could also be particularly dangerous if ducks eat them. People should certainly avoid feeding ducks bread that has already spoiled. The green mold that develops on bread may be fine for humans to eat in small portions, but it can lead to aspergillosis, a potentially fatal respiratory disease, in birds.

Better Foods to Feed Ducks

two ducks look for food on grass
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

None of this means it's necessarily wrong to feed waterfowl. The main lesson bird experts and wildlife advocates want to convey is moderation, which means limiting the size of handouts as well as avoiding ponds where lots of other people already toss food. A little bread might even be OK now and then, although several other human foods come closer to providing the right mix of energy and nutrients.

Many conservation groups discourage feeding wildlife at all (and for good reason), but others hope to improve the food ducks are fed instead of trying to prevent the practice altogether. What are those alternative snacks, you ask?

  • Corn (canned, frozen or fresh)
  • Rice (cooked or uncooked)
  • Lettuce and other greens (torn into small pieces)
  • Frozen peas (defrosted)
  • Oats (rolled or instant)
  • Seeds (including birdseed or other varieties)
Frequently Asked Questions
  • What do ducks eat in nature?

    Wild ducks live on grass, grains, aquatic plants, worms, insects, and some shellfish. They're omnivores, meaning they'll pretty much eat whatever plants and small animals they can get their bills on.

  • How much do ducks eat?

    Mature ducks eat about six to seven ounces of food per day.

  • Is it ever OK to feed wildlife?

    Most experts maintain that feeding wildlife is bad for them for various reasons. Birds are a bit different because their natural food sources become depleted throughout the year. Ducks are usually fine when left to forage for food on their own, but ones that live in urban environments sometimes rely on people to feed them.

View Article Sources
  1. "Waterways Becoming No 'Dough' Areas for Ducks." Canal & River Trust. 2016.

  2. Why is Bread Bad for Ducks?Canal River Trust.

  3. Feeding Waterfowl is Harmful.” Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Division of Fish & Wildlife. 2018.

  4. What Do Birds Eat In The Wild?.” Woodland Trust.

  5. The Problem with Feeding Ducks.” The Wildlife Center of Virginia.

  6. "Official Statement on Bread From the Queen's Swan Marker." The Swan Sanctuary.

  7. Stop Feeding Waterfowl.” New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

  8. Nutrient Pollution.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  9. Arné, Pascal, Veronica Risco-Castillo, Grégory Jouvion, Cécile Le Barzic, and Jacques Guillot. "Aspergillosis in Wild Birds." Journal of Fungi. 2021.