Friday, December 5, 2008

Please Don't Feed the Ducks

When my son, Jeffrey visited this past weekend, he brought his latest amusing gadget - a powerful green laser pointer. Its beam is far more intense than the standard red lasers we typically use to torment our cats, by convincing them that a big red bug has invaded their territory.

While dinner was simmering, we headed out to the park path which surrounds the lake, so that he could show me the distance and brightness its beam could project. It was quite impressive. He shone it on trees, the roofs of nearby apartments and directly into the sky, all the time taking care not to intrude on anyone's space, through a window, a passing plane or any number of canine or human passersby.

Some of the areas along the pathway are unlit due to failing lamp posts or broken light bulbs. When we got to a particularly dark area along the path, we figured that it was as good as any place to shine the laser. There were town homes directly across the lake from where we stood, so Jeffrey held the gadget below their level, and its vivid green light cut a searing path across the void, a few feet above the water's surface. Instantly, we heard what sounded like dozens of duck wings and agitated quacks, announcing their quick departure. Jeffrey and I looked at each other with stunned expressions and stifled laughter. We were both chagrined, yet amused at this unexpected flurry of activity. The remaining angry ducks continued to complain loudly as we made our way apologetically around the pond to return home. Each time one of us spoke, a chorus of quacks scolded us, and a few more ducks flew to another part of the water.

A couple of days later, all had been forgiven and forgotten. While I was out walking, a small cluster of unconcerned ducks waddled along the path ahead of me, nibbling on fallen apples, berries and other morsels which waterfowl find appealing. It was good to see them foraging for their own healthy meals rather than waiting for the usual tidbits of nutritionally-sparse bread that good-intentioned people throw their way.

We were guilty of that crime ourselves, for a while last year. It was a cold and particularly snowy winter, and between Frank's place and mine, there were about a hundred ducks which gathered in our respective ponds. The perpetual motion of their busy, webbed feet kept a significant area of each pond from freezing over, rendering it accommodating for most of the season, enticing them to stay the winter. But they had to be hungry.

One morning Frank brought some leftover bread to them. He tore it to bits while Benny waited eagerly for a dropped tidbit. The next day, Frank and Benny arrived to the sounds of their insistent clamour. Soon, he began to realize that plain, white bread might not be adequate nutrition for the fowl, so he began talking to grocery store managers, asking them to sell him day-old bread which contained whole grains. He went to some daily expense, tearing up a slightly-discounted loaf of bread for these now-demanding ducks. He did the same when we visited the birds in my own local pond. It did occur to us once or twice, that along with this new expense, we might not be allowing the now-complacent birds to scrounge around for their own food. We figured that we'd cease feeding them as soon as spring came along, when their options would be better. It never dawned on us that we might be doing them a large disservice.

While chatting with a neighbour one day, she discussed how frustrated she felt with those who feed the ducks because, they were killing them with kindness. Gulp! I didn't confess our regular feedings to her, but decided to do a bit of investigating. I opened the Holy Google, and turned to pages that I knew were reputable. I found the best summary of information here at Hamilton Conservation Authority. There is similar data to be found at Ducks Unlimited, Live Ducks and Hinterland Who's Who.

Essentially, bread can give them a false sense of satiation, keeping them from looking for healthier foods and causing them to fall ill easily. It can cause them to be too dependent upon us so that they no longer seek out food for themselves. It might discourage them from migrating, which could make them more susceptible to bad weather, and possible in-breeding, which in turn will weaken the flock. It can make the flock more aggressive toward one another, causing stress for some birds. It can also lead them to become more aggressive toward humans. Feeding bread to the ducks can be bad for the ducks, the water, the surrounding area and ourselves.

We were quite surprised and abashed to learn that our good intentions were actually doing harm. So, if you're like us, and have brought a bag of stale bread to share with the ducks and geese for as long as you can remember, please think about what it's doing to these wonderful birds. Instead, educate yourself about what occasional treats you should offer your particular local flocks when the weather is excessively bad, and please refrain from just feeding them as a matter of course.

And I'll do my share by not scaring the feathers off of the ducks with an inadvertent, poorly-aimed laser pointer.

Below are a few photos taken over the weekend. Please remember to click on each one to enlarge them.

Here's the laser beam as it stabs its way through the darkened room, and bathes the wall above the piano with an eerie, green light. (please click to enlarge)

Early in the day, this Downy Woodpecker came looking for insects among the branches of my plum tree. I guess pickings were still pretty good because it stayed around for much of the hour. (please click to enlarge)

This curious, little face watched Benny and Skitty from the safety of a high branch, and a closed glass door. (please click to enlarge)

A walk around the lake reveals an interesting mix of winter white, autumn red and summer green. The lake was still frozen over from the earlier cold snap, but some of autumn's leftovers were also apparent, along with the still-green grass. A little beyond the inner curve of the ice, you can see a plastic coke bottle on the surface, and the two ducks appear to be swimming toward a blue and white ball. Our area not immune to litterbugs. (please click to enlarge)

Continuing around the lake, this tree appears to have the face of gazelle - or something. Can you see it? (please click to enlarge)

Nearby this thatch of colour is proof that the recent snow and cold weather didn't kill off every bit of autumn's glory. (please click to enlarge)

This boardwalk overlooks the lake. Towering over it, is a beautiful weeping willow as evidenced by it's leaves strewn across the wooden path. (please click to enlarge)

Some of those leaves fell onto the thin, icy surface of the lake, and scattered around this log. (please click to enlarge)

An after-dark walk reveals icy shadows on the lake. The lamp behind the trees on the path casts its light through the branches and onto the lake's frozen surface, keeping watch over the lake. (please click to enlarge)

Here's a bit of a closer look of the Guardian of the Lake. (please click to enlarge)


Oman said...

lovely critters. and you captured them real well. the green beam reminds me of some futuristic fighting movie. great job.

Leah J. Utas said...

Bird books say birds like bread. Hmmmm. Beautiful pics as usual. Love the leaves scattered on ice. Very artistic.

Zuzana said...

Hilary, I totally can identify with the feelings in this post. Sometimes, we do things that can cause harm, although our intentions are good.
Here in Denmark as it gets very cold, people do feed birds as well, as at times they really can not find any food. There are stores selling adequate bird food, nutritious seeds in some sort of fat that keeps them through the winter. There is also a tradition of hanging clusters of "oats" outside, which I am doing. It is a natural source of nutrition and I love to watch the birds.
Your pictures are beautiful as always. I am amazed how you manage to capture the animals so up close. I have tried with birds, but they see me no matter how far I am and always fly away before I manage to take picture.
And yes, the laser beam is awesome.;)

hitch writer said...

Those are some very very wonderful pictures.... really well taken..!!

RiverPoet said...

Great shots, Hilary! I love the one with the green laser beam. It almost looks like the odd night shots we all watched during the first Gulf War.

It's interesting, what you dug up about birds and bread. I know that they will become aggressive if they are fed on a regular basis. I've seen that at a local community shopping center built around a huge man-made lake. People regularly come out of the movie theater and feed popcorn to the ducks, geese, and swans. They come out of the hotel and townhomes to feed them bread. It's quite a mean little flock if you have anything in your hands.

Peace - D

the Bag Lady said...

Great post, Hilary. Thanks for sharing what you learned about feeding the birds. I've known for awhile now that if you start feeding birds (any kind of bird, with a bird feeder or whatever), they come to depend on it, so you can't really stop in the middle of winter.

Love the gazelle tree!

Frank Baron said...

Nifty pics, esp. the laser beam shot. I miss feeding the ducks and still (as you know) feel a stab of guilt when they quack hopefully at my approach and plaintively as I pass by empty-handed.

Suldog said...

As always, your photos are magnificent.

I'm sure someone (maybe me, and I've forgotten, as is my wont) has broached the subject before, but... Have you looked into the possibility of getting your work published in another way aside from blogging? I'd snap up a collection of your best work in a heartbeat.

Michelle H. said...

Beautiful pictures, and you inadvertently answered something that has been puzzling me for some time.

I've been seeing a similar bird to the Downy Woodpecker that has been feasting at the suet bars on the birdfeeder. It's been driving me crazy on what it could be. Thank You!

Pat - Arkansas said...

Thanks for the good information about feeding wildlife. Love the laser beam photo and the gazelle tree.

photowannabe said...

Great capture of the lazer. Our kids had a ball with a lazer pointer at Disneyland, many years ago. Little kids chased the light all over. My Hubby convinced a little girl about 3 yrs. that it was Tinkerbell. She was so sweet.
Haven't thought of that in a while.
Good post about feeding the ducks. We have been guilty of doing the bread bit ourselves.

Indrani said...

I was trying to imagine how ducks scold.Beautiful post Hilary! Lovely pictures too.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

thank you for the walking tour!

Kat said...

There is something SO CUTE about a duck's webbed feet. That top picture just gets me. Such cute little webbed feet!
I get mad at people who feed the ducks at the beach. We have a HUGE problem with ducks in this town (especially at the beach) and feeding them definitely doesn't help. The beach is sometimes littered with duck poo. Not fun.
Still, I never really thought about it not being good for them. Good to know.

Love the squirrel pic too! :)

Daryl said...

As always, wonderful shots .. I am sure the woodpecker was just a slow chewer


Reb said...

Thank you for mentioning about not feeding the ducks. That advise goes for all wildlife too.

Beautiful photos as always Hilary.

Anonymous said...

The few times we have fed bread to the ducks, it never occurred to me that it was bad for them. I will remember this.
You captured that squirrel so very well! We have one who likes to climb into the bird feeder, but I haven't gotten a photo of him yet. I prefer it when he just eats the seeds the birds spill on the ground. (We only fill the feeder late fall through early spring.)

Tom said...

Hilary - I rarely comment here, in fact I'm not sure I ever have, which is terrible of me because I read all your posts and am always in awe of your photography. What wonderful pictures you take on your walks. I'm very jealous! I think, though, this is one of your best although it's hard to pick a winner!

We have several endangered species here and it's become part of the culture not to feed them because that could do more harm than good, but it's always difficult to avoid trying to feed animals when you think they're starving. You have to think of the long-term effects though and be tough. It's hard to do.

Looking forward to some more great pictures from this weekend!


Mental P Mama said...

Absolutely beautiful. I think that tree looks like a giraffe;) And it's no wonder that our food is hurting the ducks...a lot of it doesn't do us much good either.

Shammickite said...

I keep my back yard bird feeder filled with birdseed most of the time through the winter, and I think the birds are appreciative of it. But I see people going to the local reservoir with bread to feed the Canada Geese that gather there. I think that encourages the geese to stay here in S Ont over the winter and give up on migrating south as all the bird books say they are supposed to do.

Anonymous said...

Trying to live the life of Ghandi, who I admired very much, or Kennedy, or Lincoln, my cousin, and all the others, it does seem like we are truly missing something they all seemed to know at birth. Our cameras take a split second slice out of time and keeps it.

The willow leaves remind me of some here in that shape but considerably smaller. I think maybe Green Ash.

Here where I live in Southwestern Ohio, north of Dayton, the home of aviation, the Wright Brothers and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the poet; it is snowing and has all day. It is 27 degrees F ( -2.7 C)and roads are a mess.

I wanted to thank you for your visits and for keeping track of me while I have been both in and out of the hospital.

Maggie May said...

Love all the shots but the one with the green laser looks so dramatic. I also love the bird one on the tree. Well I love all of them!
It is a pity that the birds have bread given to them. it swells up in their tummies and it hasn't got much nutritional value.

david mcmahon said...

I always knew you were ducks of your class.

You make any subject sound interesting, Hilary.

Jo said...

I can see the face of a giraffe in that tree. Totally amazing!

And thanks for the info about feeding the ducks. I had no idea! That has always been one of my favorite things to do on a winter's day. Now I know better!

Merisi said...

I love your narrative, and thank you for all the information you conveyed! Your picture essay is exquisite too.

Isn't it interesting how feeding bread is done in so many parts of the world, without a second thought? It may have originated in hard time, when people had nothing but some crumbs of stale bread to share with their feathered friends. What may have done no harm then, has turned into a threat for many a bird.

I have observed people with small children feeding water fowl even at the height of the bird flue scare, right beside signs literally begging people to refrain from doing so!

I spent my childhood along a large river, known for its bird population. At school, we would walk down to the river with our teacher during gym or lunch break, but were allowed to feed certain seeds only in the midst of long freezes, when some birds were not able to scratch enough food for a living.

Anonymous said...

Hi Hilary,
Great pics especially your it! Are you into the Christmas spirit?
The Bach

Aly @ Lip Zip said...

Those photos are gorgeous! I love your story about the ducks scolding you. I could picture your walk of shame. :-D

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Lawstude. I'm glad you like them. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks very kindly, Leah. I kinda liked that one best, myself. And birds absolutely do like bread. It's just not a great option as a regular/frequent diet for the ducks.

• Thanks very much, Protege. Yes, we feed the birds too - a standard mix of seeds, as well as the suet (seeds in fat). I don't think that's a problem or concern. It's the ducks we need to leave be - or at least provide the proper food for them. Our city has a recent bi-law in place now, prohibiting the feeding of water fowl. And yet I've seen people feeding them right in front of those signs. Old habits die hard. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thank you, Hitch Writer. Much appreciated. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks RiverPoet. You're right about the laser bean looking like those Gulf war images. I know what you mean about the birds. I've seen seagulls practically take fries out of kids' hands on a beach in Miami. They were incredibly bold. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks Baggie. I've committed to feeding the birds at my feeder all winter. They're a lot of fun to watch - and photograph when they're willing. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Frank. Yes I know but it could be that they're giving you hell for wrecking their digestive system last year. Or that they see Benny coming and are bracing themselves for the escape. Or that they want you to learn what you can feed them safely on occasion. Or it could all be in your imagination - which is what gets my vote.

• Suldog, your flattering question made my day. I have, on occassion considered it briefly and then typically reconsider. I see so many incredible photos out there on Etsy sites and other venues, that truly I don't think my photos would have much draw. But it's still percolating in the back of my mind. I might just look into it. Thanks for your vote of confidence. Much appreciated. :)

• Thanks, MLH. I'm glad that you now know your bird from these photos. If the bird that you're seeing looks alike, but is larger, it might be a Hairy Woodpecker. It's great fun watching them at the feeders, eh? Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks very much, Pat. I'm glad you liked them. :)

• Thanks, Photowannabe. That sounds like a sweet, magical night with laser Tinkerbell. It's so great to see things through the eyes of a child. I think most of us have fed bread to the ducks over the years. It's not like they don't readily take to it.. just that it's not good enough for them. Thanks for the visit.

• Indrani - Very VERY loudly! At least when there's enough of them. ;) Thanks for the kind words. :)

• Thanks for joining me, Gary. :)

• Thanks, Kat. Yes, those little orange webs are pretty adorable. Ducks always look so comfy even when the water is near-freezing. Somewhere I have a photo of a sign from a nearby lakefront area where the city explains why we shouldn't be feeding the ducks. I should have included that in the post. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Daryl. The woodpecker might just have been in denial too.. he looked a little.. umm.. down. ;)

• Thanks, Reb. You're probably right but putting up feeders of seed and scattering the occasional peanuts for the squirrels seems innocuous enough compared to processed, nutrient-sparse foods such as bread. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks, KC. That squirrel was just too cute for me to resist. They've been pretty good about the bird feeder so far. I keep a table under my feeders so that they can feast off of its surface. I've only started filling feeders last winter, and took the spring, summer and early autumn off too. I figure that their neediest time is when it's cold and snowy. The raccoons however, have figured out how to empty that feeder in just a few minutes. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks very much for the kind words, Tom. I'm so glad you're enjoying my blog - that means a lot to me. I know how difficult it is to keep from feeding the wild critters. I'm also certain that if I truly believed they were starving, I'd not resist. For the most part, I do believe that nature knows how to take care of itself and that we're not meant to mess with its population. And yet the hypocrisy is that I do keep a feeder with seeds and nuts for them to find. Hopefully I'm doing my share by avoiding the known problem areas as outlined in the post. Thanks so much for your wonderful comments. Much appreciated, and I hope you'll chime in more often. :)

• Thanks, MPM. You're right about the processed foods not being ideal for us either. How could they be good for wildlife? That tree might look like a giraffe to you, but I found something that looked even more like a giraffe to me while walking this past week. I hope to post it sometime soon. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Shammy, you're probably right about that. I'm kind of amazed at which birds hang around as long as they do. In yesterday's cold windchills, we were still seeing robins flitting about. Where do they think they'll find worms when the ground is frozen? Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks for dropping by, Abe. It's good to see you out and about, so to speak. And I'm glad you're improving daily. I'm looking forward to many more of your own photos and posts. It's quite evident to me that you are not missing that certain something of which you speak. Thanks very much for dropping by. Keep healing! :)

• Thanks very much, Maggie. I guess that I was kind of late to the awareness of the bread problem. I'm glad you already knew that. Thanks for your very kind words and for the visit. :)

• Thanks very kindly, David. You never fail to quack me up! ;)

• Thanks for stopping by, Jo. I know how pleasant it is to feed the ducks, at least it was until we knew better. Thanks for heeding that info. :)

• Thanks very kindly, Merisi. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I think you're right about the very good intentions we all have about feeding ducks. And I'll bet that in sparse, transient populations it still isn't too serious a crime. But I live in an area with a small pond where dozens gather and stay all winter - some geese too. Our neighbourhood has a large population and these waterfowl will be fed bread several times a day, every day. It's just so bad for them at that rate. That's particularly frightening about families not heeding the signs to refrain from feeding during the avian flue scare. Old habits just die hard. It sounds like your teachers had a good handle on what to do for these critters. I'm glad for that. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks, Bach. Much appreciated. I'm not into the Christmas spirit too much. I kind of semi-celebrate it along with Hanukkah, as my kids were born to both backgrounds. How about you? :)

• Thanks for the kind words, Ali. A walk of shame it was! Good one. :)

Cath said...

Well I never knew that. I always fed the ducks - but I won't now. I never thought how it could hurt them and I'll do some research now before feeding.

Great shots as usual. That laser beam is something else!

I am still around and posting occasionally - but on the other blog, Cath's Cradle. Pop over for a peek!

Anonymous said...

Great post, with mucho information and wonderful pictures. Worthy POTD.

I actually found a Heron or some other long necked bird hiding in the hollow drunk of the tree, it's neck stretched up high and it's eye staring at me.

Anonymous said...

Great photos as always!! I saw a beautiful Bald Eagle at tree top level on a recent run. No camera, natch, but did photograph a Pileated Woodpecker this AM. They crack me up. Sound like Woody Woodpecker. I think they were the model for the cartoon.

Suldog said...


I wasn't just be flattering. Truly, I've been more moved by your photos than any others I've seen on the many blogs I visit (and no offense intended to them, of course.)

You have a magnificent eye for composition, depth, and color. I'm hardly one to be making such a judgment, as I often don't possess any of those qualities, but if your photos were ones I had taken, I'd sort some into a portfolio and send them to be judged, possibly published.

Just my two cents, of course, and whatever makes you happy and comfortable is foremost.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, I had NO idea. Not even a clue. Good information, thanks!

That beam was astounding. My men would love it. I think none would be too old to have fun with that!

I always enjoy your photos. I see something in that picture too, but could not tell what? Gazelle...Lucky you!

Thanks for your sweet comments about Jane, as always :)!

elasticwaistbandlady said...

What about Howard The Duck? Should we be discouraged from feeding a 4ft.tall talking duck even if he asks us out to dinner??!??

Well, we may not be able to feed ducks....but they sure can feed us!

Foie Gras, anyone?

Crabby McSlacker said...

Lovely pics. The laser beam shot really does look like a sci fi movie. And that picture of the log and the leaves in the pond is out of this world too!

I've had it drilled into me never to feed wild animals, but I always feel tempted.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I have been so guilty of feeding the ducks and geese at our local lake. I can attest to how aggressive the geese become, having been chased and bitten by one.

I really like the boardwalk photo. I can definitely picture it in a gallery.

Deborah Gamble said...

The boardwalk photo is astounding. I love it!

Dave said...

Thanks for the warning about not feeding the ducks. My son feeds ducks on a pond where he works every day. I sent him the website that you recommended. I liked your photos of birds and squirrel, and especially the log in the water surrounded by leaves. - Dave

Lakshmi said...

lovely the squirrels

Pappy said...

Thanks for coming by for a visit with Pappy. Always glad to welcome new readers. Laser beams and feeding ducks white bread. What did Google say about feeding white bread to human beings? Amazing to me there are so many cautions about our wild friends. I guess we ruined whole flocks as children. I wonder how many were just flying along enroute to some southern city and just fell out of the air from malnutrition? Not to worry, I think there are plenty to go around. You have a great writing style. Keep up the good work. Pappy

Russell said...

That is quite the green laser! Wow! I never knew about these. Let's see... if you take a green and a red laser, hey!, that could be good for Christmas!

I really like the picture of the bench in the darkness with the light behind it. And, yes, I do see the gazelle-tree! That could give a person a start if you looked up and saw that!! Heh!

Take care and thanks for the great photos... and, I will remember what you said about feeing ducks bread. Interesting...

Lulda Casadaga said...

Don't worry about me feeding any ducks,etc. bread...hey I hardly have time to feed my backyard birds..LOL I noticed my feeder was way will need to refill tomorrow.

Your pics are lovely as always! And I see a giraffe...

Leon1234 said...

Ok, I won't...

Hilary said...

• Good to see you, Cath. I'm glad you'll look into what's best for your local ducks. We'd sure hate to kill them with kindness. Thanks for the always-kind words. I'll be over to see the Cradle shortly. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks kindly, Moannie. I had to take another look, and I do see exactly what you mean. Who knew that a heron, a gazelle and a giraffe would all live in one tree. There's a joke in there somewhere but it's too early for me. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks, Dr. J. It would be so cool to see a bald eagle. This past summer we located ono of their abandoned nests up by the cottage, and subsequently found a feather. But that's the closest we got. Woodpeckers are indeed cool birds too. Thanks for dropping by. :)

• Thank you very much, Sully. I can't express how much it means to me to hear you say that. You managed to turn up the heat a tad - from a slow perk to a rapid boil. Watch out if it ever boils over. I truly am taking your words to heart. Thanks for that. :)

• Thanks MT. I'm sure your guys would love the laser pointer too. They never fully grow up and this gadget is proof of that. Thanks for dropping by with your always-kind words.

• LOL, EWBL. "Should we be discouraged from feeding a 4ft.tall talking duck even if he asks us out to dinner??!??"

Just make sure the duck has the bill. ;) Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Crabby. I was always of the mind that if the animal would eat it, they'd know it's good for them. That didn't help ourselves any. Your policies were certainly best for most circumstances. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks kindly, Jenn. That's some aggressive geese.. foul fowl. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks very much, Deborah. Much appreciated. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks very much for getting the word around, Cimba. That's good to hear. Thanks also for your very kind words - Much appreciated. :)

• Thanks very much, Lakshmi. :)

• Welcome, and thanks very kindly, Texican. Your silly imagery made me laugh. I don't think that white bread does much good for anyone - including the birds. :) Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks very much for your always-thoughtful comments, Russell. The two lasers would indeed make an interesting Christmas show. Thanks for dropping by. :)

• Thanks very much, Lulda. Yes I keep forgetting to add seed to mine too. I'll do that as soon as I'm done with these comments. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Welcome, Leon and thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on how to keep the ducks from landing in our yard. They went from 2 to 200. Help

Hilary said...

Andrea, I emailed you with an excerpt from a Ducks Unlimited web page about just that problem. I hope you got it. Thanks for stopping by. :)