In the latest installment of our conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Dr. Sharman Hoppes, a veterinarian with Texas Avian & Exotic Hospital in Grapevine, discusses why bread is unhealthy for ducks and geese, as well as other nutrition tips for waterfowl.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Alexis Allison: Dr. Hoppes, can you tell us a little about your work with the Texas Avian & Exotic Hospital?
Dr. Sharman Hoppes: Yeah, so I am one of the owners at Texas Avian & Exotic Hospital in Grapevine. And we opened up this facility because there was a real need for specialty medicine and surgery in all of Texas for avian, exotic and reptilian pets. We see birds, reptiles, pocket pets, monkeys, sloths, pretty much anything that’s a small exotic pet, we will see.
We have board-certified specialists there, and we also do training for residents and interns. Our goal is to train future exotic animal and avian veterinarians. So I’m really proud of our clinic and what we do.
Allison: We’re here today to talk specifically about ducks and geese, and what’s OK to feed ducks and geese. But first, I feel like it’s important to discuss whether humans should be feeding them out in the wild. What are your thoughts?
Hoppes: When we’re talking about birds in the wild, we should not be feeding them. They should be foraging in nature and eating things that are healthy for them. It allows them to keep their weight stable. It allows them to basically be birds and get a nutritionally adequate diet. When we step into a wild situation, we typically overfeed them. It’s one thing if I’m the only person that ever goes out there and gives them a piece of bread, but dozens of people may go out there and give them a piece of bread.
And bread we know isn’t very nutritious, but even if we’re feeding them healthy things, they’re going to overeat, which is going to cause them to defecate more, and that carries bacteria. If it’s not cleared up by nature, it can grow fungus.
(Overfeeding) leads to overcrowding of the birds, and then you have birds that have health issues. Baby birds, especially baby ducks and baby geese that don’t get adequate diets, end up with limb deformities, wing deformities, they’re stunted, and so they just don’t do well long term.
Allison: You mentioned an adequate diet in nature. What do ducks and geese typically eat?
Hoppes: So there’s a little bit of difference. Geese don’t usually get in the water, but ducks will eat snails and small fish. They’ll eat plants, roots, insects, berries, grasses. Geese tend to be more on the land, so they’re going to eat more roots, insects. They’re both omnivorous. So they’re getting a wide variety of things. And they’re also foraging, so they’re expending some energy to get that food so they’re not getting overweight, and it’s keeping them fit.
Allison: You mentioned that bread isn’t great to feed these birds. Why isn’t bread OK?
Hoppes: So bread is a carbohydrate, and it’s got a lot of sugar in it, a lot of calories and a lot of carbs, but it doesn’t have very much protein, doesn’t have very much fiber. And it has few real minerals and vitamins. Also it’s very filling, so they end up not getting enough of their nutritious diet because they’ve overeaten the bread.
Allison: It sounds like the same issues that bread might cause humans, it also might cause ducks and geese.
Hoppes: Yes, people should not live on bread alone. And neither should geese and ducks.
Allison: So what is OK? For the people who decide, ‘hey, we like to feed the ducks and geese,’ what would you recommend that they actually offer?
Hoppes: If people decide they’re going to feed ducks and geese, if we can’t talk them out of it, then the formulated duck or geese pellets is a really good thing to offer them. Oats and grains, berries, they really like blueberries, pieces of apple, pears, peas, mealworms. You can even get freeze-dried mealworms and crickets. Vegetables like cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, kale, squash and carrots are other things that they’ll take. So there’s a lot of healthy things we can offer them that will be more satisfying and nutritious than bread.
Allison: Thank you for sharing that list. And I’m curious if you have any other general recommendations for people who are interacting with ducks and geese in the wild.
Hoppes: Well, so in an ideal world of the wild, we don’t approach wildlife. It’s not good for them to get acclimated to people. You and I might go and feed the ducks and have good intentions. But when we lower their fear of people by feeding them, it actually puts them at risk in the long run. So we really shouldn’t be trying to hand feed them, or get them to come to us, we should have some distance. And if you’re going to feed them, throw it out to them, so that they’re not having to come in and take it from your hand.
Allison: And is that because people will hurt them, eventually? What’s the fear there?
Hoppes: So there’s two things: One, the ducks and geese get aggressive. And so then they start coming at people. And if you’ve ever been bit by a duck, or a goose, or, sometimes the geese will hit you with their wings, they can hurt. And if you’re a small child, it can do some damage. So it’s not just for the duck and geese’ protection, but also for the people.
But also, if you’ve got a duck and a goose and they’re used to all these people feeding them, they see people as a positive thing. It makes them more at risk. Wild animals should try to get away from predators. And, humans are predators. That’s what we are.
Allison: Thank you for sharing this. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Hoppes: Yes. Across the country, and actually, even in some other countries, there’s a virus, avian influenza, that is becoming quite an issue for the poultry industry and backyard chickens. And it is carried by ducks, wild ducks, and certainly our ducks in the United States can carry it. So it’s not really a zoonotic risk at this point, but it certainly can be an issue for the poultry industry.
And when we do things like feeding ducks poorly nutritious food, and kind of disrupting nature, then we allow these ducks to potentially get sick and carry a virus that they might not normally have issues with. Because their immune system’s down and they’re malnourished, they’re going to have more ill effects from it.
Allison: My understanding is that the avian flu is at least partly responsible for high egg prices.
Hoppes: Yes. What we can do to make sure that our ducks and geese wildlife stay healthy, is honestly to stay away from them as much as possible and let them take care of themselves.
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.
Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.