Recently, I read a paper written by Dr. Dave McRuer outlining the unintended consequences of feeding waterfowl at parks. Good natured people who want to help the ducks and geese with a free meal are actually harming them. Supplemental feeding of waterfowl is actually killing them with kindness. Here are some of the problems associated with this activity:
- Overcrowding – Ducks and geese are a lot like humans. When they find out that ‘free food’ is available, they flock to it. When large numbers of any species congregate in one small area, the huge number of animals cause overcrowding. Overcrowding leads to disease transmission and destruction of the environment. It is also bad for the birds. Dr. McRuer states that during mating season, female ducks may drown when they cannot escape the large number of amorous males.
- Poor nutrition – In the wild, ducks and geese eat a variety of food. When they live off of people food which is often high and carbohydrates and protein, they suffer nutritional problems. If they are eating high carbohydrate foods such as bread, crackers and popcorn, they often develop calcium deficiency. This causes soft bones that break easily, weak shells when they lay eggs, heart and nerve problems. If they are fed pellets which are high in protein, a condition called ‘angel wings’ occurs. (More information at https://drnelsonsveterinaryblog.com/2014/08/avoid-feeding-bread-to-ducks-and-geese-to-prevent-angel-wings/ )
- Delayed migration – Due to the free food, the birds hang around instead of migrating. When the weather changes, many birds will freeze to death. Others will starve to death when the cold weather forces people inside leaving the birds with no food.
- Loss of fear for humans – One of the best defense mechanisms for all wild animals is a healthy fear of humans. Animals of any kind that lose their fear of humans are prone to death from dogs and cats as well as automobiles. They also may be poisoned by humans who don’t want the mess that comes with a large number of waterfowl.
For these reasons, I must strongly encourage you not to feed wild animals. The Wildlife Center of Virginia has come up with a great saying for this.
“No crackers for quackers!”
Source: -McRuer, Dave, Consequences of feeding waterfowl in public parks. 2012. http://wildlifecenter.org/news_events/news/problem-feeding-ducks