Helping Ducks Stay Healthy

May 9th, 2012

By Industry Expert Gavin Ferris, Ecologist

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I spent a lot of my childhood near a lake, and there was always a bag or two of stale bread on hand ready to be fed to the mallard ducks that swam expectantly past our dock.  Who hasn’t experienced the pure joy of feeding ducks?  Unfortunately, it turns out we aren’t doing the ducks much of a favor by tossing bread and crackers to them.

For one thing, bread and crackers are to birds what donuts and chips are to people: junk food.  The carbohydrates are a good source of energy, but with little nutritional value, and while an occasional piece of bread here and a saltine cracker there does little harm, if too much of a duck’s diet comes to consist of these handouts from people, they can gain too much weight and have trouble flying.  This makes it difficult for them to migrate naturally, and can make it harder for them to avoid predators.

Better choices if you wish to feed wild ducks can include grapes, frozen peas (once they’re defrosted), cracked corn, oats, and birdseed.  But even with healthier foods, feeding wild animals from hand does pose other problems.  Like any animal, ducks can come to associate people with food, and lose their fear of humans, leading them to dangerous behaviors like crossing busy streets to get to people.  The presence of an unnaturally abundant food source can also prevent ducks from spreading out to find food, which can lead to overcrowding, aggression, and disease.

The best thing you can do to show ducks that visit your area that you care is to improve their habitat.  Improving the aquatic ecosystem with diverse native plants provides natural food sources and cover from predators.  If your pond is in a wooded area, wood duck nest boxes may be appropriate.   Nesting boxes for mallard ducks are also an option, and both provide hens with a place to lay their eggs safely away from raccoons and other nest predators.

However you choose to enjoy the wildlife that visits your local pond or lake, be kind to your fine feathered friends, for a duck could be somebody’s mother.

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Gavin Ferris is an Ecologist with SOLitude Lake Management. Since 1998, SOLitude Lake Management has been committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Services are available throughout the Eastern United States. Fisheries management consulting and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at

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