Feeding Wild Ducks & Geese can be Harmful
Along with saying “hello” to the bears and waving at the prairie dogs, feeding the ducks and geese at Wildwood Park is one of those things many people do without a second thought. With the influx of recent articles appearing on social media about duck-feeding, FOCUS decided to investigate.
With help from Zookeeper and wildlife expert Steve Burns, FOCUS discovered what’s best for our local ducks and geese. As it turns out, though feeding the ducks and geese can be fun, it’s not necessarily what’s best for our feathery friends…
As the weather gets warmer, Wildwood Park and Zoo welcomes back the ducks and geese that flew south for the winter. During spring and fall migrations, there can be tens of thousands of waterfowl at the park on any given day. These migrants join the 100 “resident” birds that are unable or choose not to migrate.
Whatever the size of the aviary crowd, visitors to Wildwood are actually encouraged to enjoy the birds without bringing food, for both their own and the birds’ health and safety.
“Though there are occasions during the winter months that zoo staff will feed duck grower and shelled corn to a few of the injured ducks or geese that cannot migrate south, in general, the Zoo does not feed the wild ducks or geese,” said Zookeeper Steven Burns, Marshfield Parks & Recreation. “In general, feeding wild animals can have several negative results.”
For example, regular feeding by the public can lead to unnatural concentrations of animals in an area, which increases the likelihood of disease transmission (both among animals and between animals and humans).
Additionally, this increases stress on the habitat/environment of that area, resulting in a buildup of waste product (droppings) from those animals. Also from a habitat perspective, uneaten feed may contribute to poor water quality and algal blooms.
Not only can it harm their habitat, wild animals that are regularly fed can lose some of their natural survival instincts. Instead of being self-sufficient, they become dependent on feedings and may not explore to find alternate natural sources of food and cover.
“If animals become dependent on people, they suffer when we lose interest or are no longer able to feed them,” said Burns. “They can become habituated to people and lose their natural fear of predators-like us; some may even become aggressive towards humans.”
Along with losing natural instincts, birds that spend the majority of the season in one small
area may not build or maintain the muscle necessary to migrate in fall.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the foods that humans often choose to feed wild animals are often not healthy or nutritious.
“Bread specifically has very little nutritional value to wildlife,” said Burns. “Birds that fill up on these ‘empty’ calories often do not get enough nutritious food in their diets. This can lead to poor overall health and debilitating health conditions.”
Similar to humans needing a balanced diet, the ducks and geese at Wildwood also need healthy sustenance.
“If people still choose to feed waterfowl there are better choices than bread,” he said. “Cut lettuce, peas, oats, corn, or birdseed are good alternatives.”
Burns cautions that although these choices are more nutritious for the individual bird, feeding can still contribute to many of the other negatives discussed above. Additionally, overfeeding is a concern.
In short, for those seeking to help waterfowl or other wild animals, the best ways to help are to keep them wild and support causes and legislation that improves or preserves their natural habitat. Happy visiting!