Don’t Feed the Birds! — DO NOT THROW FOOD INTO THE LAKE!

By Joseph Moore

It seems like the most natural and traditional lake or pond activity, and a great way to recycle stale or surplus bread. Tossing food to ducks (for the sake of brevity “ducks” should be understood to also include: swans, geese, coots, grebes and other lake avian residents and visitors) feels like a positive and even selfless act, not to mention cheap (or cheep!) entertainment, and many bird lovers are shocked and perturbed when told to stop feeding the ducks.

There exist two very basic reasons why duck feeding is not allowed at Westlake Lake:

Reason #1 – It’s bad for the birds!

Visiting birds are omnivorous foragers, and their biological instincts drive them to search for sustenance most of the day. Their natural diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, water plants, bugs, and seeds/grains indigenous to the environment they occupy. These foods are rich in the valuable nutrients that the birds need to stay alive and healthy, and the activity of foraging ensures the ducks do not become fat and lazy. When free handouts of bread, bagels, chips, popcorn and other highly processed “people food” are supplied, this natural foraging instinct is interrupted and goes dormant in varying degrees.

Ducks are greedy feeders, and a further result of handouts is that they will fill up on these nutritionally empty snacks and not have enough appetite left to dine on their natural diet. They will also become lazy about looking for proper food and instead spend their waking hours keeping an eye on humans for their next free meal. Remember: for each human one sees feeding the ducks there are at least another dozen junk food pushers one does not see. So multiply that seemingly insubstantial “little snack” that gets tossed to the duck following the boat or outside the restaurants by at least twelve, and one can get some appreciation for the real amount of empty calories each duck is consuming each day.

Just like in humans, eating junk food leads to obesity in the ducks. The confusing part of this is that to all outward appearances the ducks look fine, not fat. Ducks store their excess fat in and around their organs and over time this leads to death by liver disease, heart disease, and malnutrition. Fat, overfed, malnourished ducks become sluggish and are easy prey for predators, and they lose the ability to fly, which in turn disrupts natural migration patterns, as does the constant supply of junk food handouts. The malnutrition also leads to strange deformities such as bent or crooked looking feathers which also inhibit flight, as well as abhorrent mating behaviors that are not normally seen in these species that usually mates only in pairs; the junk food alters the body chemistry.

Other more serious negative effects of recreational feeding of our duck population include:

-Choking on large wads of bread or bagels (the lake crew has found the bodies of several ducks in the past year that have apparently choked to death on human food).

-The passing on of diseases such as Salmonella and Botulism, which grow on food that is not immediately eaten and left on the ground.

-Food attracts rats, pests and predators that kill ducks and endanger humans.

-Rotting food pollutes the water and breeds deadly diseases and parasites:

• Outbreaks of Duck Virus Enteritis (caused by artificial feeding) can eradicate entire duck populations.

• Uneaten food will quickly form a deadly mold called Aspergillus which is fatal to ducks unless there is early diagnosis and expensive treatment.

• Avian Botulism (caused by artificial feeding) kills entire waterfowl populations and can infect humans.

• Artificially fed ducks emit a parasite that causes a condition in humans called Swimmer’s Itch.

-Ducks defecate at the site of scattered food or bread, and the bacteria in feces creates much higher risks for illness or disease.

-Most waterfowl die-offs in the past decade have been attributed to artificial feeding.

-Ducks that are overfed create dangerous amounts of waste that harms fish and other animals living in ponds.

-Uneaten food sinks and decays, adding to pollution of the water.

This last one is important to emphasize because most duck feeders are under the mistaken impression that whatever bread and such that the ducks miss, the fish will eat. They don’t. And that leads nicely to:

Reason #2 – It’s bad for the lake!

Even though Westlake Lake is not a natural lake9 (see the History of the Lake article) it otherwise functions as a natural ecosystem. Everything that lives in and on the lake is interconnected, and an imbalance of one element can throw off another, which then affects a third and so on. For example: too much fertilization of a homeowner’s lawn leads to too much of the wrong type of nutrients entering the lake due to run off from storms and/or over-watering, which leads to an over-growth of algae which, if let to continue, will kill off beneficial water plants and fish and, essentially, the lake.

To bring this back to topic then, the naturally occurring foodstuffs that the ducks should be eating will by their quality and quantity keep the duck population in check and limit the numbers of avian residents to that which the lake ecosystem can sustain. Artificially feeding the ducks will cause their numbers to increase to an unnatural population greater than Westlake Lake will be able to support, which will not only put the duck’s health at risk due to the reasons mentioned previously, it will also increase the amount of waste entering the lake in the form of feces and uneaten food. These increases will negatively impact the water quality in multiple ways, but it all connects to a single bottom line: the lake’s ability to sustain life.

To sum up, feeding the ducks has an adverse affect on the health of the ducks, the health of the other lake denizens, and the health of the water. There is no positive result from the activity, so if our noble, feathered friends truly are loved – Please, do not feed the ducks!