A controversial sign in a Buxton park has sparked fierce debate over what is safe to feed to ducks, swans and geese.
The official-looking notice told people in the Pavillion Gardens that “it’s ok” to feed bread to the ducks.
The sign claimed “everyone has stopped feeding us because they wrongly think bread will make us poorly and now some of us are dying of starvation without your bread”.
The park staff have said they had nothing to do with the notice, and when a mother posted a photo of the sign to Facebook she faced backlash from people who said the information was false, as well as support from people who agreed with the message.
The post was shared more than 17,000 times, dividing opinion on timelines and groups all over the country.
One commenter slammed the notice and said, “It’s common sense that we’re not supposed to feed ducks something that they wouldn’t find in the wild….find another way to entertain your children. Or if you must feed the ducks pick up a bag of bird feed and keep it in your car.”
But another said, “Generations of people have fed ducks stale bread for years!! I see no decline in the duck population, just feed them.”
A number of people said that they were confused by the mixed messages they were getting, and were not sure what they should be feeding ducks.
Even experts asked to clarify whether bread is safe for ducks have offered differing opinions.
Can ducks eat bread?
The verdict from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is that bread is not dangerous for ducks and other waterfowl as long as it is fed to them in moderation as part of a varied diet.
“Just like us, birds need a varied diet to stay healthy,” said Tony Whitehead, of the RSPB.
“Although ducks and swans can digest all types of bread, too much can leave them feeling full without giving them all of the important vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need.
“So, although bread isn’t harmful, our advice is to only feed small amounts to birds.”
However, the Canal and Rivers Trust has campaigned against the feeding of bread to ducks.
Its website says that the soggy bread can cause a build up of bacteria and attract rats, and when ducks eat bread they just become full without benefitting nutritionally. And others have pointed out that the ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign set up in recent years to curtail the feeding of bread to waterfowl was started by a company that made alternative bird food.
In some areas, flocks of birds are known to have settled because they know that humans provide a food source there, and have come to rely on it to survive.
Members of groups like Swan Support have reported that they have seen waterfowl starve as people have stopped feeding them bread.
So what should you be feeding ducks?
The general consensus is that although bread may not be the best thing for ducks to eat, it is unlikely to do them serious harm if fed in moderation.
Food that ducks can eat includes sweetcorn, birdseed, specialist duck food, oats, wheat and grain.
Experts say that all of this is healthier than bread, though bread can supplement their diets as long as only the amount that the ducks will eat is fed to them to prevent waste bread in the water.