Feeding bread to ducks isn’t all it’s quacked up to be. Yes, the ducks are cute, but giving them bread can cause health problems and negatively impact their environment.

Bread is high in carbohydrates and has little nutritional value for ducks, which require varied diets to live healthy lives, says Kristin Norris, a veterinary technician at VCA Bridgeport Animal Hospital. Bread can be especially problematic for ducklings.

Like junk food for humans, bread is OK for ducks every now and then; however, it’s hard to regulate how often the fowl get this foul snack when they’re in the wild. If the ducks live in a public space, they could be fed numerous times throughout the day. High-carb diets cause the birds to defecate more, and the ducks’ stool can harbor bacteria that cause diseases like avian botulism, Norris explains.

Uneaten bread is also a problem. Moldy bread can cause a deadly lung infection capable of wiping out an entire flock of ducks, says Norris.

Leftover bread can also damage the birds’ habitats, notes Norris. Rotting bread makes the water stink, and it can lead to algal blooms that can decimate other plant and animal life, further limiting the variety of food options available to the ducks.

Rather than feeding ducks bread, bird enthusiasts can instead offer them treats like:

  • Halved grapes (be sure to cut them in half to prevent choking)
  • Cracked corn
  • Thawed frozen peas
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Birdseed
  • Duck pellets

Even with these healthier snacks, Norris says it’s still important to only feed ducks in moderation. If the birds, especially the ducklings, become reliant on people for their food, they may stop foraging or engaging in their other natural behaviors.

“You don’t need to bring a whole bag of seed, a whole bag of grapes,” Norris says, “You don’t want to just throw a whole bunch of stuff at them.” Instead, a handful of snacks should suffice.

An abundance of people feeding the birds can also lead to overcrowding as more and more ducks come for easy meals, explains Norris. This means more feces that can potentially harbor bacteria and more birds competing for space and other resources. It can also attract duck predators that are drawn to the large flocks.

“It’s better to admire, but it is very tempting to feed them,” says Norris. Norris stresses that moderation is key if people are going to feed ducks in public spaces that allow the activity.

“If it’s really busy that day and you see a lot of people feeding, maybe just wait for a day when it’s not as busy, and offer a very small snack,” Norris recommends.