If They Can’t Have Bread Let Them Eat….Salad?

It’s a famous quote, courtesy of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and gained fame mainly for its naivety and stupidity. When bread became too expensive for the poor of France to live on, she is known to have said:

‘Let them have cake.’

So, that’s that. But salad? Who said that? And who are we talking about now? Well, this time we are talking about ducks and wildfowl and it is not that our feathered friends cannot afford bread, of course not, but that we should no longer be feeding them bread. It’s a childhood memory for many, remembering being taken down to the river or local lake with parents or grandparents, armed with a trusty loaf of bread and throwing it to the ducks and geese. In fact, this activity is so popular that it is thought around 6 million loaves of bread were bought in 2015,  just to feed the ducks.



So, what’s the problem with bread? All a big hullabaloo over nothing? After all, the ducks and geese seem to love it! Well they may enjoy it, but unfortunately, throwing bread to the ducks is the equivalent of throwing them junk food. Like many of us, they’ll happily eat it, but it doesn’t make it particularly good for them. In fact, human food in general could be quite damaging to many species of wildfowl, leading to general ill health as well as a number of health conditions. The nutritional value of bread to a bird is virtually non-existent, but as it is unbeknown to them, they will fill up on it, consequently making them less likely to eat their natural and more nutritional foods. Imagine eating an entire packet of biscuits, they’re delicious and filling, but we’re not very likely to then tuck into a few kiwis and blueberries afterward, even if they are better for us.

But it is not just these issues that are problematic. In addition, the wet, soggy bread that remains wasted and uneaten on the bank or in the water can turn into something quite sinister. These apparent harmless pieces of waste food can attract rats, can spawn large algae blooms that alter the chemical and biological make up of the water, and serve as a brilliant breeding ground for bacteria. This then increases the risk and spread of disease.



But do not despair! There is another way to feed the birds! A much healthier way at that. Items such as oats, grapes, lettuce and salad mixes are all great for ducks and geese and have a much higher nutritional value. Or, alternatively, go down to your local pet store and buy some bird seed, or mixes such as mealworms. It may not be as pleasant to throw a handful of worms to the ducks as throwing a handful of bread, but the ducks will love it and it’s much better for them!

Become something of a self-appointed wildfowl nutritionist! Let them have salad, seeds and oats!

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve stopped feeding bread to ducks after my daughter told me off! It wasn’t hard to break the habit once I knew I might be harming them. Oats and salad is a great idea Eleanor, thank you.

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