Sunday 26 March 2017

What To Feed Ducks (Even If They Are Secretly Evil)

A duck's beak in close-up

   It’s easy to romanticise ducks. They’re splendid looking birds for starters, and the fact they’re synonymous with peaceful strolls in the park is a major plus point too.

   What folk don’t discuss very often, and for good reason, is that these much-loved winged beings are also absolutely fucked up. I would ask you to pardon my coarse language but there’s simply no other way to describe these feathered terrors.

   In his seminal research, the Dutchman Kees Moeliker highlights some of the more unsavoury activities mallards indulge in. For starters, and very much not in keeping with the friendly image they’ve somehow managed to cultivate, ducks regularly procreate via force – if you watch the birds for any length of time you will notice a recurring pattern of multiple males chasing after a solitary female. Its genuinely quite disturbing.

   Perhaps more astounding, however, is the description Moeliker gives of the fate of one mallard who crashed into his window at the Natuurmuseum, Rotterdam. The bird, unfortunately, died upon impact but, rather than grieve, a similarly male duck who had witnessed the instance saw this as an opportunity, not a tragedy. Moeliker recalls, his prose dripping in quiet horror, viewing the alive mallard aggressively peck at the corpse of his recently deceased peer whilst repeatedly copulating with it. To say that ducks are perverts, then, is something of an understatement.

A duck quacking

  Yet, aside from the myth of their inherent niceness, the one other fallacy which often surrounds these birds is their love of breadcrumbs. You’ll often see a family with a pre-prepared bag of bread tossing it indiscriminately to a pack of mallards who will gobble up the food with eager avarice. If you can stomach ever being near these birds again, or think it good to provide them with a momentary distraction from their perverted ways, then it’s important to know that bread is actually really, really bad for them. Everything you thought you knew about ducks is truly a lie.

   When ducks eat bread, they fill their stomachs but do so in a way which deprives them of essential nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition and a condition called “angel wing” which can cause the birds to become flightless. Furthermore, rogue bread in the ponds or rivers the ducks dwell in can ultimately become catastrophic for the local eco-system; it might not be just the mallards you are endangering after all.

   So, as your relationship with mallards teeters on the edge of the “it’s complicated” zone, it’s important to consider what food you could and should prepare for them next time you’re planning a pleasant stroll through their neighbourhood.

   Duck pellets are the obvious choice of bread replacement and birdseed (which you can pick up from most supermarkets) is a relatively straightforward choice too. However, it might be the following, surprising items which make for the most unconventional albeit healthy options for the birds: lettuce (torn into small pieces), corn (canned, frozen or fresh), and defrosted frozen peas are all easily digestible and full of appropriate nutrients for the birds. They may seem like odd choices right now but ducks, themselves, are rather odd animals. In a way, its rather fitting.


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