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Question #18520 posted on 06/12/2003 midnight

Dear 100 Hour Board,
I heard that white bread is not good for ducks. What would be a better alternative? Are popcorn and cheerios okay?
- Just Ducky

A: Dear Just Ducky,
Too much white bread (or any bread) is not necessarily good for ducks, or good for anyone, for that matter.

To extract nutrients from food items, ducks and geese must be able to efficiently and effectively digest them. Just as with many other vertebrates, the digestion process begins with physical grinding. To accomplish this, all birds (including waterfowl) use the gizzard, not teeth. This is an adaptation for flight. The jawbone structure and teeth required to grind food in the mouth results in a substantial amount of weight located in the front end of the body. This causes some problems with in-flight balance. Maneuverability in flight requires an even distribution of body weight. This is achieved in birds by centralizing heavy structures, such as the gizzard, in the body cavity. Because there is no sense in carrying around unnecessary weight, we find that gizzard size in waterfowl is closely related to the nature and/or volume of food eaten. This is most notable among species where consumers of relatively fibrous foods such as seeds and leafy vegetation (mallards, gadwalls, pintails) possess larger gizzards than do fish eaters, such as mergansers. But this pattern also holds within species where there is significant variation in the predominant food types eaten during various times of the year or among different habitat types.

Feeding ducks can change ducks' natural behavior or ecosystems. If these are truly wild ducks, then it's best if you don't feed them. Adults and young ducklings eat lots of aquatic invertebrates during spring and summer (mostly aquatic insects like midge larvae, and mayfly, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, etc.). These natural foods are particularly high in protein, which females need to produce eggs and ducklings need for rapid growth and survival. Foods like bread (even though sometimes enriched with protein) and grain are lower in protein than the foods ducks would eat naturally at this time of year. If you made ice cream and cookies readily available at all times to your own kids, they'd eat very little of the things that are better for them nutritionally. It's possible that you could create the same situation by feeding ducks the wrong foods at certain times of the year.

If you insist on feeding the ducks, visit your local feed store and buy a scientifically formulated poultry starter with a crude protein content of 27% or greater. Use this food until about mid-August, then switch to a food with a much higher carbohydrate content (wheat, barley, or corn, for example), because ducks start putting on fat for migration at that time.

- Zorro
A: Dear Ducky,
If white bread isn't good then wouldn't dark bread be better? I wouldn't recommend popcorn, but Cheerios and wheaties work fine. I personally prefer peanuts, but that could just be me. If you don't like these options, then just try strongbad's duck pond simulator. http://www.homestarrunner.com/sbemail14.html
A: Dear JD
Not feeding them at all, if you wish to contribute to delinquency.
~To the point