It’s time to change a national habit

It’s time to change a national habit

Why we MUST stop feeding bread to ducks.

This hot, calm summer weather is reminding New Zealanders of a harsh truth: by feeding white bread scraps to ducks, we are doing more harm than good.

A rash of avian botulism cases in Auckland has a local duck rescue group and the Auckland City Council worried, while other groups are desperately trying to get the message out to the public.

Uneaten bread rots in the water, particularly in still bodies of water like ponds, creating a fertile ground for the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Ingesting this bacteria produces a deadly neurotoxin in ducks, paralysing the bird from the neck down. An infected duck will drown if unable to lift its head out of the water or if paralysed on land, may die of dehydration.

Periods of hot, calm weather increase the occurrence of the toxin, hence the high number of cases reported this summer.

There are health consequences for the ducks too. Eating a high-calorie diet of white bread causes malnourishment as well as severe vitamin deficiencies. In the worst cases ducks can develop ‘angel wing’ where wings become twisted and feathers fall out, leaving them unable to fly or swim.

Break the habit by binning the bread!

To protect our local waterways and wildlife, we need to change our habits. Scott Bowman of Oxford Bird Rescue, who with his wife Tracey care for between 300 and 400 sick, injured or abandoned ducks each season, says that the public is slowly getting the message. “It’s about reeducation and setting up some clear messaging around the dangers of feeding bread.”

However he acknowledges that it’s difficult to change a habit that we formed as kids. “That’s what we did when we went to the park, we took the leftover bread.”

Photo courtesy of Auckland Museum

Often on the receiving end of “outraged comments” from people defending the practice, Bowman advocates for a nation-wide approach, with leadership from local councils.

As developers of New Zealand’s first duck-specific food, we are calling for people to bin the bread, offering some councils a free trial of Lucky Duck to help them get the message out.

Ducks should be offered a blend of whole grains, seeds and vegetation that replicates their specific and diverse natural diet. Topflite’s Lucky Duck is locally grown and formulated to contain everything a healthy duck needs.

“We saw a need for a product to keep ducks healthy and well-nourished,” says General Manager Greg Webster. “Feeding the ducks is an enjoyable family activity and is a great way to help young children learn about birds in the wild.”

“We’d love to see more Kiwis get into the habit of taking a healthier alternative out with them on trips to the park, rather than scraps of bread.”

Developed alongside an avian nutrition expert, Lucky Duck replicates the natural diet and feeding habits of ducks. It contains nutritious oats and barley, kibbled maize and sorghum as well as vegetable additions for those essential vitamins. All ingredients are grown in the rich soil of Oamaru, ensuring much greater nutritional value than imported ingredients.

The ducks at Oxford Bird Rescue are certainly satisfied with the blend. Bowman says that after two years of feeding Lucky Duck, he has “certainly seen a lot better results” in his rehabilitated ducks.

Our feeding method is a habit that must change too. Rather than throwing food into the water, feed should be scattered on the ground to encourage the foraging behaviour natural to ducks.

With clearer public messaging and access to a nourishing, easy alternative to bread, New Zealanders can enjoy safer waterways with healthier, happier ducks.

Have you got a local flock of ducks that would benefit from a Lucky Duck? Get in touch with us now.