For many people around the world, tossing small chunks of bread to the ducks on a leisurely afternoon can be an enjoyable way to connect with nature. It can be a relaxing pastime for many adults, and exciting for children, who get a thrill at watching the ducks run around, gobbling up the little treats. But the question of what to feed ducks has been on the minds of wildlife experts as the pass time grows in popularity.
Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they may be doing more harm than good. Ducks have a specific natural diet that keeps them healthy, and unsurprisingly, bread is not included in it. This begs the question: what should you feed ducks, or should you feed them at all?
What to feed ducks: the debate
In October 2019, an online debate began surrounding a sign posted at a park in the UK, urging people to feed “starving” ducks with bread. The sign read:
“It’s ok to feed us bread! Everyone has stopped feeding us bread because they wrongly think it will make us poorly and now some of us are dying of starvation without your bread! Yes, it’s not the healthiest for us, but nothing in our bellies will kill us!” .
A photo of the sign was shared on Twitter and on Reddit, where it has received more than 39 thousand likes and 1500 comments. Other signs shared on social media in the past, however, have urged people to do the opposite, claiming that bread makes ducks ill.
So what is the right answer?
Bread: Not Great for Ducks, Not Great for the Environment
“Just like us, birds need a varied diet to stay healthy,” said a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. “Although ducks and swans can digest all types of bread, too much can leave them feeling full without giving them all of the important vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need.” 
One of the main problems associated with giving bread to ducks is that essentially, you are giving them a high-carbohydrate handout. Any handout can lead to a loss in natural behaviour, as it disrupts their natural instincts. This is particularly problematic for young ducklings, because it could prevent them from learning how to forage for food they way they are designed to.
White bread further complicates the issue, since it provides very little nutritional value. Not only will this cause the ducks to become malnourished, but it will make them gain weight. If they are too heavy, they will become slower and be less capable of getting away from predators.
An overabundance of high-calorie food can also lead to overcrowding, which results in aggression and an increase in predators .
Uneaten bread is left to rot, which can stimulate the growth of algae, which takes over other plants that ducks usually eat, and creates an unhealthy balance within the ecosystem. This pollution concentrates and eventually kills off normal aquatic life.
Additionally, over-feeding ducks bread can lead to more disease because it causes them to poop more often. This excrement, which differs significantly in composition from that of a duck who has been foraging naturally, does not break down the same way in the environment.
Ducks who eat moldy bread can also develop a fatal lung infection called aspergillosis, and leftover rotting bread can attract other unwanted pests such as rats and mice, which can introduce other diseases to the area .
Finally, feeding ducks a high-carb, high-protein diet of mostly bread can cause them to develop a condition called “angel wing”, in which their end feathers stick out sideways instead of flat against their bodies. This deformity is dangerous because it prevents them from flying .
What to Feed Ducks
Several organizations in the UK, the United States, and other countries around the world have initiated education campaigns to inform the public on better alternatives to bread. The Canal River Trust has launched a campaign urging people to feed ducks with frozen peas and sweet corn instead.
Apparently, ducks are also partial to grapes, which should be cut into quarters to eat. A spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) says that while it is always nice to hear that people want to help the ducks and birds, it is important that they are giving them the right kind of food.
“Bread in itself is not the best food to give waterfowl as it fills them up without giving them the nutrients they need. We recommend people instead give small amounts of grain such as wheat, corn or bird seed, plus fresh chopped greens like cabbage or spinach, as these will supplement the birds’ natural diet and help provide the birds with the necessary nutrients to keep them healthy,” the organization said in a statement .
The following are healthier options if you would like to continue feeding ducks and birds:
- Nothing- Yes, it is fun to feed ducks. Remember, though, that you are not the only one who is feeding these animals, and they may become dependent on the food you give them. This will cause them to stop foraging for themselves, and they will lose their natural instincts.
- Grapes (cut them in half first to avoid choking)
- Frozen peas or corn (let them thaw but do not cook)
- Cracked corn, barley, oats or other grain
- Mealworms (fresh or dried)
- Earthworms (dig them up or get some from a bait store)
- Chopped lettuce or other greens
- Finely chopped fresh food scraps (vegetables or fruits)
- Birdseed 
The Canal River Trust recommends varying what you give the ducks, and to practice portion control, since overfeeding them anything can cause health problems in the future .