About once a week, I take my daughter to a local wildlife sanctuary to feed a familiar flock of Canada geese. We have been known to distribute handfuls of dried peas to the eager waterfowl, often just feet away from a sign that reads “Do not feed the ducks.”
I justify our family ritual by observing that the birds I’m feeding are geese, not ducks.
Many wildlife enthusiasts enjoy sharing food with wild birds, including waterfowl like geese and ducks. However, there are many drawbacks to this widespread pastime. While some critics claim that the practice does more harm than good, proponents argue that the waterfowl benefit from moderate human interaction.
Is it okay to feed wild ducks and geese? Here are some perspectives.
Against Feeding Wild Waterfowl:
Some experts believe that we should adopt a live-and-let-live attitude toward wild ducks and geese. As humans, we have no place interacting with wild birds. When we feed them, we encourage them to become dependent on human beings, and they lose their natural ability to forage. Wild animals should be treated like wild animals.
Additionally, well-meaning people may harm the health of wild ducks by feeding them. Areas where ducks are overfed can quickly become overpopulated, making the animals more prone to infections– including human-transmissible diseases like avian flu. Many people feed geese and ducks harmful foods, including crackers and potato chips. These can cause problems like obesity and liver disease.
In Favor of Feeding Wild Waterfowl:
Waterbird enthusiasts like myself disagree that we should sever ourselves from wild animals. We are an intrinsic part of nature and we can never fully isolate ourselves from wild geese and ducks. As we encroach on animal’s wild habitats, we have two choices: we can learn to coexist, or we can exterminate the other species. It is futile to try to sequester ourselves from other species, because we share a habitat.
If we feed wild geese and ducks responsibly, we are unlikely to seriously harm their health. Conscientious duck-feeders should take care to use only minimally processed foods like corn, peas and millet. If natural predators are allowed to thrive in areas populated by wild ducks and geese, overpopulation should not be an issue. Coyotes, red foxes, golden eagles, bald eagles and raccoons present no serious danger to humans, but their presence will prevent unnatural spikes in the populations of wild waterfowl.
The Bottom Line:
The choice to feed wild ducks and geese– or not feed them– is largely a matter of personal philosophy. If you believe in the conservationist mentality– that we should try to segregate ourselves from the natural world– you may find it ideal to avoid feeding any wild birds. However, moderate feeding can offer benefits to travel-weary ducks and geese, and it is an enjoyable activity for bird enthusiasts.
As always, abide by your local laws and regulations regarding wild waterfowl.