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Any Way You Slice It, Bread Is Bad For Wildlife

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

Blog post written by Lisa Busa, GRLC Board Member

Credit: Trish Steel, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve all done it at some point in our lives, right? Grabbed a loaf of bread and headed out to our local park to meet up with some feathered friends. We enjoy the experience of offering wildlife a free meal in exchange for the chance to observe these creatures up close and personal. We mean well and may even view this action as altruistic. But could we be doing more harm than good?

Unfortunately, our good intentions may result in damaging consequences. According to experts, here are some reasons why we should refrain from feeding bread to wildlife.

Bread products contain very little nutritional value for wildlife. In fact, they can be full of sugars, sodium and carbohydrates. Sadly, these ingredients can be deadly to birds, squirrels, fish and many other animals that are not equipped to digest this unnatural diet. For example, a squirrel's kidneys cannot filter out large amounts of salt.

Many species need a diverse diet of vegetation, insects, fish, mollusks and crustaceans to name a few. Bread is full of empty calories. Wildlife will fill their bellies with bread and then have little interest in foraging for the quality food sources that they require.

Malnutrition is suggested to be the cause of “angel wing” in waterfowl. “Angel wing” is a deformity in the structure of the wing. The high-calories and insufficient nutrients create a disfigurement as the wing outgrows the wrist joints. Once the bird reaches adulthood, the condition is incurable. A bird suffering from “angel wing” cannot swim or fly properly and they have trouble escaping predators. This will ultimately result in a low quality and brief life.

Duck with "angel wing" condition. Credit: Cengland0, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Uneaten bread left on land can become moldy and toxic. Moldy food can contain tremorgenic mycotoxins and can make wildlife and our pets very ill. Mold can also cause Aspergillosis when the spores are inhaled. This can be fatal since there is no treatment available for birds.

Feeding wildlife can result in behavioral changes and dependency. When wildlife are fed by humans, it can create an unhealthy dependence on these handouts. Relying on these free meals can cause wildlife to lose their ability to forage, possibly even resulting in wildlife parents not teaching their offspring how to find food naturally. The overabundance of food can lure large amounts of wildlife to an area that does not provide enough natural sources of food. The large numbers may become unmanageable for the habitat in which they live. Overcrowding can lead to competition at man-made feeding sites and animals can become aggressive and stressed. Wildlife can lose their fear of humans and eventually be considered a nuisance. Animals may innocently approach humans that are not friendly and these people may harm them. The expectation of a reliable food source may delay migration of waterfowl. They may be reluctant to leave the food source, even as winter approaches, and then struggle during the cold temperatures when their human feeders retreat to their warm homes.

Feeding wildlife can cause water quality concerns. When you toss bread into the water for ducks, geese, fish, etc., uneaten pieces accumulate and decay, leaving an excess of nutrients. The additional excrement from waterfowl combined with the excess nutrients can trigger algae blooms. The algae blooms strip the water of oxygen. This is detrimental to aquatic life. Hypoxia (the depletion of oxygen) kills aquatic life, robbing wildlife of natural food supplies.

It can be difficult for nature lovers to suppress the urge to feed a friendly face. However, try considering the consequences of this action. Once you recognize the very important role that nutrition plays in the health of wildlife, you will feel less compelled to interfere. Nature has a way of balancing the flora and fauna in the environment. It can support the necessary biodiversity and ensure the harmony that is required for wildlife to thrive. We simply need to step back and let it.

Learn more about the problems of feeding ducks and other wildlife by visiting the website for The Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Credit: News 1130

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About the Author

Lisa Busa is the newest GRLC board member, having joined the organization in October 2020.

Lisa holds an Associate's Degree in Specialized Technology and became a board certified veterinary technician in 2005.

Since 2009, Lisa volunteers her time at Wildbird Recovery, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center in Butler County where she assists in the care, treatment, and release of orphaned and injured wild birds. She also participates in educating the public on preserving native species, habitat, and the environment.

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