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SCV Outdoor Report: Ducking And Weaving

By: Wendy Langhans


Mallard ducks eat a variety of foods, including algae, plants and insects.

People love to feed the wild ducks.  A few days ago I spotted a Mom and Dad with their two pre-school children, happily sitting on the grass and watching the ducks eat the food they had brought to share.  As I kept walking, I spotted a second family doing the same thing.  And later I watched an older gentleman walk up to a park bench, carefully sit down, open a paper sack of bread crumbs and…you guessed it…begin feeding the ducks. 


These are all heartwarming stories, to be sure.  But in every case, their kindhearted behavior was actually hurting the ducks rather than helping.  This is a difficult concept to get across to people, because the harmful unintended consequences of their actions are not evident until much later, long after the people have gone home. 


It’s obviously not enough to simply post a sign saying, “Please don’t feed the ducks.”   So let me share with you five reasons why feeding wildfowl is NOT A GOOD IDEA:


Wild animals need a natural fear of humans and other predators in order to survive.  Untamed animals run from people.  Tame animals run to people.  But unfortunately, not all people are nice. 


Bread crumbs are not a good source of nutrition for birds.  They fill up on “junk” food and don’t have an appetite for what they really need to be healthy.  Think about it – would you feed your child a “Twinkie” before dinner?


Mergansers, on the other hand, mostly eat fish and amphibians.

Just like your family car, a habitat has a natural carrying capacity.  When you provide an artificial source of food, even “junk” food, the result is overcrowding.  The surrounding land becomes soiled and overwhelmed with bird droppings, leading to parasites and diseases.  


Wildfowl are migratory birds.  When they leave an area, the wetlands naturally filter out the impurities caused by wildfowl waste.  But when food is always readily available, the birds do not migrate and waste builds up in the water.


Buildup of wildfowl waste can lead to buildup of bacteria in the water, which can lead to a die-off of fish.  Birds that rely on fish, like egrets, herons and mergansers, will either starve or leave.  There’s no doubt about it, the actions we take often have unintended consequences.


And so now you know why we post signs saying “Please do not feed the ducks.”  I’m an optimist that people will pay attention because I believe that people have the capacity to look ahead and consider the consequences of their behavior.  But I’m also a realist because I know that people have the capacity to rationalize their behavior, especially if it allows them to continue doing what “feels” good.    So it all boils down to what kind of person you want to be?  And even more important, what kind of person do you want your children to grow up to be?


Upcoming Outdoor Events:


Saturday, Nov. 17, 8:00-10:00 AM.  Towsley Canyon
Bird Walk.  An easy walk.  Link for map and directions:

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


Saturday, Nov. 17, 9:00 AM.  Whitney Canyon.
This is a rigorous hike – 10 miles, with elevation gain on the first five miles.  Bring lunch and plenty of water.


Link for map and directions:


For more information contact Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel at

Sponsored by the Community Hiking Club


You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


For our complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to

SCV Outdoor Report: Ducking And Weaving

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