Can you feed baby ducks bread

Why Bread Is Bad For Ducks

The Ultimate Junk Food for Birds


Melissa Mayntz

Melissa Mayntz

Melissa Mayntz is a bird expert, certified Master Naturalist, writer, and author with over three decades of experience. She's published in several national magazines, including National Wildlife Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and WildBird Magazine. Melissa has studied hundreds of bird species around the world, traveling to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the central Pacific, the Middle East, and more on birding expeditions.

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Updated on 09/17/22

Fact checked by

Jillian Dara

Fact checked by Jillian Dara

Jillian is a freelance journalist with 10 years of editorial experience in the lifestyle genre. She is a writer and fact checker for TripSavvy, as well as a fact-checker for The Spruce.

Learn more about The Spruce's Editorial Process

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

Many birders were first introduced to the joys of wildlife by feeding ducks bread at a local park or pond. While we may have thought this was an environmentally responsible and cute way to dispose of old or stale scraps, bread is bad for ducks because it's unhealthy and potentially dangerous for the birds, other wildlife, and even ourselves.

Bread and similar products such as crackers, rolls, chips, crisps, donuts, crusts, cereal, and popcorn are great sources of carbohydrates, but they offer little nutritional value for ducks, geese, swans, and other birds. In fact, bread is the equivalent of junk food for birds. Just like humans would suffer from a diet of nothing but candy and sugar, too much bread can lead ducks to obesity and malnutrition as well as many other problems. Read on to learn more about why bread is bad for ducks.

Watch Now: What Do Ducks Eat?

Why Bread Is Bad for Ducks

Not only can bread be fattening to ducks and make it harder for them to fly and otherwise evade predators, but feeding ducks can also lead to other serious problems that can make them sick.

  • Duckling Malnutrition: Ducklings require a varied diet and plenty of natural plants and insect proteins to mature properly. If ducks are regularly fed bread, ducklings will not receive adequate nutrition for proper growth and development. Furthermore, because ducks will eagerly seek out an easy food source such as human handouts, ducklings will not learn to recognize or forage for natural foods as easily.
  • Overcrowding: Where an easy food source is abundant, ducks and other waterfowl will lay more eggs and the pond or lake will quickly become overcrowded. This makes it more difficult for the birds to seek out healthier food sources and increases the likelihood of territorial aggression. In overcrowded areas, predators can also thrive and will impact other bird populations, and diseases can quickly spread through large flocks as well.
  • Pollution: When too much bread is offered to ducks, not all of it will be eaten. Soggy, uneaten bread is an eyesore, and rotting bread and increased bird defecation can create noxious odors as well as lead to greater algae growth that can clog waterways and crowd out more desirable plants. This concentrates the pollution and can eventually eradicate fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and other life in the vicinity, making good food sources even scarcer.
  • Diseases: Feeding ducks bread can increase the spread of diseases in two ways. First, a carbohydrate-rich diet leads to greater defecation, and bird feces easily harbor bacteria responsible for numerous diseases, including avian botulism. Second, moldy bread can cause aspergillosis, a fatal lung infection that can decimate entire duck and waterfowl flocks.
  • Pest Attraction: Rotting food left over from sated ducks will attract other unwelcome pests such as raccoons, rats, mice, and insects. These pests can also harbor additional diseases that can be dangerous to humans and threatening to other wildlife.
  • Loss of Natural Behavior: When birds become accustomed to handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive to get more food. Their loss of fear can also cause other dangers, such as a willingness to cross busy roads to reach picnickers, dumpsters, and other likely sources of food.

Offered as a rare treat in extreme moderation, bread is not immediately harmful to ducks or birds, but that moderation is hard to judge. While one person or family may only feed the ducks once every few months, there may be many other families and individuals who are feeding the ducks bread far more frequently. Adding all these well-meaning feeders together can lead to a diet based almost solely on unhealthy bread products. Environmentally conscious birders will stop offering any bread or bread-like products to ducks to avoid nutritional problems and other issues caused by a carbohydrate-rich diet.

What to Feed Ducks Instead of Bread

Wild ducks and waterfowl can eat many things other than bread. Natural food sources such as aquatic plants, seeds, grasses, nuts, and insects will help them live longer, healthier lives than taking handouts from well-meaning humans. If you still want to feed the ducks, which can be an enchanting experience, there are many healthier alternatives to offer instead of bread. Great foods you should feed ducks include:

  • Grapes (cut in half to prevent choking)
  • Barley, oats, birdseed, or other grains
  • Duck feed pellets available from farm supply stores
  • Cracked corn
  • Frozen peas or corn kernels (defrosted first, but no need to cook)


Use caution when feeding ducks corn. Ducks should only be fed what they can eat so the food doesn't rot and pollute the water, especially when it comes to corn.

Illustration: Elnora Turner © The Spruce, 2018 

Don’t Waste Bread

For many people, feeding ducks bread is not only a way to interact with wildlife but is also a handy way to dispose of old, stale bread without just tossing it in the trash. However, there are many other useful ways to dispose of unwanted bread, including:

  • Adding bread to a compost pile to create mulch and fertilizer for bird-friendly landscaping
  • Trying stale bread recipes, such as bread pudding or homemade dressing/stuffing
  • Toasting stale bread for homemade croutons, bread crumbs, or garlic toast
  • Using stale bread for crafts, such as making cookie-like decorations or play dough

Of course, the best way to use up stale bread without feeding it to ducks is to avoid having any leftover bread in the first place. Bread can be easily frozen until needed, or birders can monitor their menus and shopping lists to ensure there are no leftovers that would be tempting to feed to ducks.


There are many toxic plants and foods that you should never feed ducks. Some of these items include avocadoes, green potatoes, onions, beans, nuts, and iceberg lettuce (but this is just a short list).

Article Sources

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Burt SA, Vos CJ, Buijs JA, Corbee RJ. Nutritional Implications of Feeding Free-living Birds in Public Urban Areas. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2021;105(2):385-393. doi:10.1111/jpn.13441

  2. Bad Idea: Feeding Bread to Ducks and Other Birds. National Audubon Society

  3. Stop Feeding Waterfowl. New York State.

  4. Save the Ducks! Don’t Feed Them. UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

  5. Why Shouldn't We Feed Water Birds? University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.

  6. Aspergillosis. Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Disease Laboratory.

  7. Things That Are Toxic to Ducks. Open Sanctuary.

Can Ducks Eat Bread? What Should We Be Feeding Them Instead?

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If you’ve been scrolling straight past all the Brexit news and onto the more interesting stuff, as I have, you might have read the viral news story about a woman who left a sign in her local park, encouraging people to feed bread to the ducks again. And just like Brexit, it seems that it has ignited quite a heated debate! Going down to feed the ducks with the two ends of a loaf of bread is an age-old British tradition that I and many of you will remember quite fondly as a child. Unfortunately for bird lovers, in the last few years or so, many people have been arguing that bread shouldn’t be fed to ducks. However, as with all great debates, there has been a bit of a U-turn, and now people are arguing that maybe we SHOULD be feeding ducks again.

So who’s right? Should we be feeding ducks bread, or is it too unhealthy for them?


Why Feeding Ducks Bread Can Be Harmful

Dietary needs…

Ducks and other waterfowl have quite varied diets, and will happily eat anything from plants to small snails – they can digest bread, but as it is usually deficient in essential nutrients that they need to survive (especially white bread), they don’t gain much by eating it. And by filling up on stale bread, ducks will eat less of their normal diet that has the essential nutrients in. Think of it like if you ate huge portions of chips, with no room for anything else – apart from getting quite large, you would also be lacking a number of essential vitamins and minerals, which can lead to health problems. The same is true for ducks and bread.

For young ducklings, bread is not just nutritionally lacking, it may be harmful too. Too much calorific bread deficient in nutrients means a growing bird’s wings can grow faster than the bones underneath – this can cause a condition called ‘angel wing’, where their deformed wings make it difficult to swim and fly. It is not certain that this condition is linked to bread consumption, but there is some evidence.

What about the pond?!

Finally, bread in ponds may be harmful to the pond itself, and everything that relies on it. Ducks don’t have bottomless stomachs and if there is any soggy bread left uneaten, it tends to sink to the bottom of the water and rot. This provides energy for microscopic plants, called algae, to grow, covering the pond – you may have seen this as a thick green carpet covering the surface of a pond. This overgrowth can remove oxygen from the pond, resulting in a lot of the life in it dying. A dead pond has no food for the ducks to eat, so they have to move away or risk starving.


Why Feeding Ducks Bread Might be Okay

If you’ve ever fed ducks before, you’ll know how voracious they can be – many ducks are fairly reliant on humans feeding them bread, and as the woman who put up the poster pointed out, some have been starving because of the recent discouragement. The morality of making ducks reliant on bread is an argument for another day, but there are clearly some large populations that rely on people throwing their crusts into the pond. If everyone stopped feeding ducks bread, some would inevitably starve, especially over winter when food is scarce.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, bread is not inherently bad for ducks – it is not poisonous, so small amounts of bread will not cause ducks to suffer. Even young ducks that are at risk of angel wing (and remember that it is not certain how much bread leads to angel wing) have to consume a large amount of bread to become deficient in nutrients or deformed. Again, think of the chips; we’ve all had huge portions of chips and not been able to eat for the rest of the day, but the vast majority of us will not do it regularly. It’s having big bags of chips, or a whole loaf of bread, every day that causes people and ducks to become unhealthy.


What’s the Verdict?

The reason why this argument is still ongoing is that there is no simple answer! Too much bread can be harmful to ducks and their environment, but not having any is causing some ducks to starve. So what should you be doing? Small amounts of bread every now and then are not too risky for ducks, and people should not be shamed because of it. Make sure it is only a little and that all of it is consumed. However, try not to do it too regularly, because if everyone fed their local ducks every week, the problems that caused the argument in the first place will still be very common.


What should you feed ducks?

For anyone who loves feeding ducks, there is a better solution: ducks are not fussy, and there are a number of other foods you can feed ducks safely, regularly, and without worrying for their health. Some good duck foods include oats, seeds, lettuce, commercial duck pellets, and vegetables. Bring these next time you visit the ducks, and you can be sure they are getting the nutrition they need. Over winter, extra food is especially welcome, so wrap up warm, bring a bag of oats and go feed some ducks!

Is it possible to feed ducks and swans with bread and long loaf?

Can ducks be fed bread?

Aposhniya naviny, Real naviny Hell 29 April 2020

bird parades in winter

Many bird lovers first experienced the joy of communicating with wildlife when they treated ducks to bread in a local park or pond. nine0003

They may have thought this was a good and environmentally friendly way to get rid of old and stale bread. But in fact, duck bread is unhealthy and potentially dangerous food.

Read this text in Belarusian

Do not feed waterfowl with bread and loaf!

How does bread affect the health of ducks?

Bread and related foods (crackers, chips, crumpets, crackers, cereals, popcorn) are good sources of carbohydrates, but ducks, geese, swans, and other birds get few calories from eating them. In fact, bird bread is unhealthy food. Just as it is harmful for a person to eat only sweets, so it is harmful for ducks to eat too much bread. This can lead to overweight, indigestion and other problems. nine0003

Feeding bread to ducks very infrequently - once every few months - will not do much harm. But many people feed ducks much more often. And if you take into account all those who, with the best of intentions, feed ducks with bread, it turns out that birds eat exclusively junk food. People with a high level of environmental awareness will not feed bread or similar foods to ducks to avoid the problems associated with their high carbohydrate content.


Why is bread bad for ducks?

Bread can not only lead to obesity in ducks, which prevents them from flying and escaping from predators, but also cause other serious problems:

  • Lack of essential substances in ducklings which can be obtained from natural plants and insects. If the ducks are regularly fed bread, the ducklings do not receive food suitable for normal growth. Moreover, ducks are happy to choose such a simple way of obtaining food as human feeding. As a result, it is difficult for ducklings to learn to recognize and obtain natural food. nine0038
  • Overcrowding : In places where forage is easy, ducks and other waterfowl lay more eggs, resulting in an overcrowded lake or pond. This makes finding healthier food more difficult and increases the likelihood of conflicts over territory. Predators can gather in crowded areas and reduce the number of birds of other species. In addition, diseases can spread rapidly in large flocks.

  • Pollution : If too much bread is thrown to the birds, not all of it is eaten. In addition to the fact that wet bread does not look very attractive, it rots, creates a stench and leads to the active growth of duckweed. Severe pollution can lead to the disappearance of fish, amphibians, crustaceans and other inhabitants of the reservoir, further reducing the number of natural food sources.
  • Diseases : Feeding bread to ducks can spread disease in two ways. First, foods high in carbohydrates cause more bowel movements, and bird droppings can contain bacteria that cause many diseases, including avian botulism. Second, moldy bread can cause aspergillosis, a deadly lung disease that can kill an entire flock of ducks or other waterfowl. nine0038
  • Loss of natural ability : as birds become accustomed to receiving food from their hands, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive in an attempt to obtain more food. The lack of fear of a person can lead to another danger, for example, in Minsk, some people catch ducks on baited places for soup.

What can you feed ducks instead of bread

Wild ducks, swans and other water birds can live longer and healthier lives if they eat natural food: aquatic plants, seeds and invertebrates, and not what people throw at them from the very best motives. nine0003

Swans on freezing ponds: “How is it that we don’t need to be rescued?”

If you have the opportunity, watch the behavior of ducks for a few minutes under the bridge near the Yubileynaya Hotel or below the dam of Komsomolskoye Lake in Minsk. Mallard ducks in nature should not dive. But Belarusian ducks have learned to get food from the bottom and can dive for 10-20 seconds to tear off the delicious mussels from the bottom. As long as there is open water, and without your help, they will not die. nine0003

But if you still want to treat the ducks - and this can give you and the children a wonderful experience - bread has many alternatives. The best food for ducks will be crushed corn, barley, oats or oatmeal, other cereals or cereals, chopped vegetables.

Do not translate bread

For many people, feeding ducks means not only communicating with nature, but also getting rid of old, stale bread. But you can get rid of it in another way, for example:

  • Put bread into compost to form fertilizer;
  • Learn recipes for stale bread, such as bread pudding, homemade sauce or stuffing;
  • Make stale bread toast for homemade croutons, breadcrumbs or garlic croutons;
  • Use stale bread to make handicrafts such as biscuit decorations or to make plasticine.

Of course, the best solution is not to throw away the bread at all. It can be kept fresh for a long time in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, or frozen and kept in the freezer until needed. Bird lovers can design the menu in such a way that they don't throw away the bread and don't be tempted to feed ducks and other birds with bread. nine0003

Melissa Mainz,, Translation by Elena Romanovskaya

Photo by Alexander and Maria Vinchevsky

Ornithologist told whether it is possible to feed ducks with white bread - Moscow 24, 20.02.2021

February 20, 2021, 17, 17, 17, 17, 17, 17, 17, 17 :20


Almost all of February, the capital is anomalously cold, many ponds and rivers are frozen. Against this background, the ducks had nowhere to get food. Caring citizens feed the birds and encourage others to follow their example. We tell you what you can treat ducks without harming their health, as well as where to go if the birds are frozen in the pond. nine0113

Photo: portal of the Mayor and Government of Moscow/Maxim Denisov

What to feed the ducks?

Elena Chernova, an employee of the coordinating center of the Union for the Protection of Birds of Russia, told Moscow 24 that special feed is the ideal option for ducks. It can be purchased at agricultural stores or the poultry market.

"It is clear that the bulk of the townspeople feed them with white bread. White bread for them is about the same as cakes for us: they love it, it is tasty for them, but in large quantities it leads to obesity and is not very useful. The most important thing is not you need to feed the ducks with black and moldy bread," she stressed. nine0113

They will not eat seeds. If there is a desire to properly feed, then you can buy compound feed for ducks, which is designed for their diet.

Elena Chernova

employee of the coordinating center of the Russian Bird Conservation Union

The ornithologist added that low-fat cottage cheese, boiled barley porridge or cereals are also suitable for feeding ducks. At the same time, fried, salted and smoked foods, as well as fruits, on the contrary, can harm birds.

In turn, Igor Buskin, a member of the Moscow City Duma commission on environmental policy, explained to Moscow 24 that ducks are migratory animals, therefore, as a rule, they find food without difficulty. nine0113

They know very well where there are open waters. Even on the Yauza River, wild ducks fly to those places where the water does not freeze.

Igor Buskin

Moscow City Duma deputy, director of the park "Babushkinsky"

"Any waterfowl will always find food for itself. for ducks, the waterfowl feeding program has been running for more than a year. It's just that not everyone knows about it," the deputy says. nine0113

Muscovites were told what to feed wild ducks

How to help birds in trouble?

It happens that ducks or other waterfowl freeze into the ice due to a sharp drop in temperature. According to ornithologist Elena Chernova, such cases occur with injured or weakened animals. It is theoretically possible to try to rescue a duck in trouble on your own.

"In this case, you just need to remove the duck from the ice, place it in a box and warm it somewhere in the entrance. You don't need to put it near the heater, because this can cause injury to it. You just need to place it in a room where it is slightly above zero ", - explained the specialist. nine0113

The animal must then be examined. If there are no wounds on the paws, then it can be safely released back. Otherwise, contact your veterinarian.

Elena Chernova

officer of the coordinating center of the Russian Bird Conservation Union

However, the press service of the capital's department for civil defense, emergencies and fire safety urged not to risk their health and call a rescue team to the scene.

"You need to call 112, if it is in the area of ​​responsibility of our rescuers - a station or a detachment, then they leave.

Learn more