The morality of feeding the ducks and gulls

Outside my apartment, the Oxford canal looks calm on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday a similar scene inspired me to get some stale bread (organic, wholemeal) to see if there were any ducks or gulls who felt like some bread crumbs. 50 or 60 birds later, i was overseeing what, it seemed to me, was a horrible combination of greed and disappointment.

I’m not sure I could have enough for everyone, since the group was getting larger all the time. As it was, some birds were bound not to get a share. Occasionally a little gull would get up on the railing I was leaning on and make a terrrible noise. I’d put a piece of bread on the railing and move away quickly, hoping a big gull wouldn’t beat the little one to it.

So I left wondering whether my inciting this behavior was really morally ok. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “The morality of feeding the ducks and gulls

  1. It’s better not to feed wildlife, for reasons other than those you state. Among other reasons, humans usually guess wrong about critters’ dietary requirements. (Even organic, whole grain bread is bad for water fowl.) It’s especially important to avoid feeding birds by throwing bread (etc.) in the water (dunno whether you did this) because doing so leads birds to ingest bread that has soaked up the various microorganisms in the water. This kills many birds each year.

  2. Lady Day, I think I’ve known not to feed wild animals in general, but I hardly thought of the ducks as wild. Still, a quick look at the web offered multiple confirmations of your remarks. Interestingly, I also foud this in popular Science:

    Fear not! There are plenty of leftovers that you can feed to the duckies. The Canal River Trust undertook a delightful duck taste test on different kinds of lettuces and greens. Apparently ducks are big into the whole kale trend, but not even swans want anything to do with watercress. Knowledge is power!
    Other safe options include corn (canned, frozen, or fresh), peas (same deal), seeds, oats, and rice (don’t worry, it won’t make their stomachs explode). A rather exhaustive list of potential duck foods put together by bird enthusiasts suggests that, aside from breads and obvious junk foods, the only things to avoid at all costs are avocados, onions, citrus, nuts, chocolate, popcorn, carbonated beverages (what), and alcohol (WHAT). So while you probably shouldn’t dump a container of leftovers into your local duck pond, there are plenty of foods you can pass along to your waterfowl friends once they’ve lost their luster.

  3. In addition to altering their behavior, bread, in particular, is ecologically terrible. It tends to generate more feces which can pollute waterways (our local lake has their problem). It’s directly polluting as it sinks and rots.

    I think it’s best to enjoy them without feeding them.

  4. I remind myself that if the seeds and oats get the same frenzied response, my question arises again: should one encourage behavior leading to greed and disappointment.?

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