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Swans & ducks

Wildfowl, or waterfowl, is a general term for birds that live near aquatic environments. They belong to the Order Anseriformes in which the largest Family Anatidae includes over 170 species of birds including ducks, swans and geese. This Order of birds is distributed worldwide, except for the Antarctic region, and habitat areas near lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, swamps and marshes. In general the diet consists of aquatic plants, worms, crustaceans and snails, small fish and fish eggs, insects, berries, and small amphibians such as frogs and newts.

duck walking

For generations the feeding of waterfowl with bread has been a wonderful pastime enjoyed by many, but it can cause problems for the birds. Bread offers little-to-no nutritional benefit, but the birds will readily eat it when it is offered. The problem occurs as the calorific bread fills up the stomach so much that the bird will not forage for their normal natural diet that will give them all the vitamins and minerals they require. In young birds, a reliance on human supplied bread, and other junk food, discourages them to learn to forage for the natural foods they need to be healthy. In both cases this can lead to malnourishment and in severe cases in young birds to a condition called Angel Wing.

There is a place to have a commercial food that will allow families to carry on the pastime of feeding the waterfowl at parks, ponds, and lakes etc. that will be nutritionally beneficial and not harm the birds. According to National Geographic safe food for waterfowl include cucumber, corn, peas, beans, broccoli, beets, squash, alfalfa, tomatoes, aubergine, peeled bananas, seeds, scrambled eggs, and rice. Foods to be avoided as they are harmful include avocados, onions, citrus fruits, chocolate, popcorn and, of course, bread

Brambles Swan and Duck food conforms to recommended guidelines for nutritional requirements, contains added vitamins and minerals, and is also suitable for geese, moorhens, and coots. As it floats you can easily see when the birds have had sufficient.

Figure 1
Figure 1

As previously described bread can be a contributing factor in waterfowl getting Angel Wing. Angel Wing is a condition in which the distal portion of wing appears flipped outward. It is caused by excessively rapid growth of feathers in relation to muscle development and as a result growing flight feathers cause excess stress and weight on carpal muscles. This in turn leads to the carpal portion of the wing to hang and twist outwards and prevents the bird from flying (Figure 1).

Possible causes of Angel Wing include:

  • Over feeding &/or excessive calorie intake
  • Genetic factors
  • Excessive growth rate
  • Manganese (or Vitamin E) and vitamin D3 deficiency

It is possible that the high calorie bread discourages natural foraging and thus can cause deficiencies in vitamins and minerals that then lead to Angel Wing in some birds. The condition can be reversed with proper feeding in young birds but once the bird is an adult it cannot be reversed. Although Angel Wing is not life threatening to the bird in a sheltered environment it would be unlikely to survive in the wild.

There can also be problems with bread that is left uneaten as this can attract predators that may be harmful to waterfowl. It can also, if left for long enough, grow mould that if the birds consequently eat can make them very ill. Another issue is one of uneaten bread adding to nutrient build up in the water, especially in closed water such as lakes and ponds. This excess of nutrients in the water can then lead to excess algae growth such as cyanobacteria (blue green algae) and harmful algal blooms that in severe cases depletes oxygen levels to the extent that aquatic plants and animals die out. This process of eutrophication is usually caused using fertilisers and soil run off into water (and human sewage) that leads to high nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the water but there is an argument that bread may contribute to this albeit in a smaller way.

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