Ducks should be fed frozen peas, lettuce or grapes cut in half instead of "junk food" bread that causes algae, disease and rats, charity says
It has been a treasured family pastime for generations: taking stale, leftover bread down to the river or pond to feed the ducks.
Now, though, it appears we have been doing it all wrong.
The Canal & River Trust is this week launching a major campaign urging people to leave the bread at home – and feed ducks with frozen peas, lettuce and grapes instead.
The charity, which is officially tasked with looking after Britain’s waterways, is warning families that bread constitutes harmful “junk food” for ducks - while the soggy remnants of the millions of loaves thrown into rivers each year are encouraging rats, disease and algae.
According to the trust’s list of suggested “healthy alternatives” for birds, grapes should be cut in half and lettuce chopped up, while frozen peas should be defrosted - but need not be cooked.
Oats, barley, rice and vegetable trimmings also make acceptable replacements for the leftover crusts, it advises.
While attempts by some councils to discourage traditional duck-feeding have met with hostility, the trust is hoping its campaign – which will see adverts taken out on trains and in washrooms - can win over the public by educating them about the alarming potential consequences in time for spring.
Ducklings fed on bread will end up malnourished and fail to learn how to forage for food, the trust warns, while birds that become accustomed to hand-outs will lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive. “Their loss of fear can also cause other dangers, such as a willingness to cross busy roads in order to reach picnickers and other likely sources of food," it says.
Uneaten, rotting bread left by overfed birds can trigger noxious odours and fuel algae that can eventually eradicate fish from the area, as well as attracting rats, mice and insects. Mouldy bread can also cause aspergillosis, a fatal lung infection that can wipe out waterfowl flocks, the charity warns.
Waterways can become overcrowded with birds at popular feeding sites, leading to “excessive amounts of bird poo”, where other bird diseases such as avian botulism can thrive.
Peter Birch, national environment manager for the Canal & River Trust, said: “Please come and feed the ducks but do it sensibly so your children and future generations can enjoy it too. The charity is asking the public to make a few simple changes.
“Bread’s not great for a duck’s health as it’s nothing like their natural diet so don’t over feed them with large quantities of it. Try to vary what you give them and swap it for healthier more natural treats like oats, corn, or defrosted frozen peas. And exercise portion control!
“Don’t follow the crowds, spread the love, and visit a new family of ducks to prevent large quantities of the starchy duck ‘junk food’ from clogging up the same places and potentially damaging the environment.”
Article originally published in the Daily Telegraph, written by Emily Gosden