Don't Feed Ducks Bread: Ducks Shouldn't Eat Certain Human Foods

Love ’em or hate ’em, the ducks and geese at Capaha Park make for a picturesque visit around the lagoon and waterfalls. To reduce the chances of the birds developing “Angel Wing,” consider not feeding them bread or other items intended for human consumption.

Example of a bird with "angel wing." Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Example of a bird with “angel wing.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Yes, that’s correct. Feeding the ducks bread, as some of us love to do, can harm the animals.
What is Angel Wing?
According to Wikipedia, angel wing is a rare syndrome affecting birds, such as geese or ducks, where the last wing joint twists outward instead of allowing the wing to rest next to the bird’s body.  Angel wing can affect the bird’s ability to fly and protect itself. The syndrome can develop from a high-calorie diet, including a diet high in protein and several vitamins. Much of the white bread made for human consumption is enriched, meaning it has added protein and vitamins that humans need, but is not adequate for waterfowl. Other theorized causes of angel wing are genetics and additional dietary-based concerns.
Who looks after the ducks and geese at Capaha Park?
Both City of Cape Girardeau Parks and Recreation staff and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) look after or monitor the ducks and geese at Capaha Park. MDC specifically monitors the wild geese by tagging them checking periodically to see if they’ve migrated. If the birds do not migrate, MDC staff will relocate the birds to another area.
The white geese are different; they prefer to stay in location and breed. One theory is that inter-breeding between the white geese at Capaha could lead to angel wing in some cases. Parks and Recreation staff do observe people feeding the ducks, but most park visitors watch and do not feed the birds. The geese do eat grass, seeds, and pond weeds besides bread given to them by the public. Therefore, a combination of factors, genetics and diet, could contribute to a few of the geese at Capaha Park having angel wing, but evidence is not conclusive.
Why not put up signs saying, “Don’t feed the ducks?”
Based on staff observance there are not many folks feeding the ducks, making signs somewhat irrelevant. Therefore, it is difficult to conclude whether the birds in the Capaha lagoon are negatively affected by bread. Since it is a possibility, those wishing to feed the ducks are asked to consider items more appropriate for their diet than bread. Parks staff prefer to allow the ducks and feeding to remain, since several community members have expressed their preference to be able to feed ducks as a means of relaxation or therapeutic exercise.
What should ducks eat, then?
It’s best to not feed the ducks and geese human food to make sure you do not disrupt their delicate diets and the ecosystem of the pond. If you do wish to feed the ducks, choose one of the following options:

  • Cracked corn
  • Wheat, barley, or similar grains
  • Oats (uncoooked; rolled or quick)
  • Rice (cooked or uncooked)
  • Milo
  • Birdseed (any type)
  • Grapes (cut in half)
  • Frozen peas or corn
  • Earthworms or mealworms (fresh or dried)
  • Chopped dark, leafy greens (not iceberg-type lettuce)
  • Vegetable trimmings or peels (chopped)
  • Nothing with pesticides