Posts filed under Wildlife & Insects

Bread and Ducks

By Lori Goodman

It’s a beautiful day, you gather up the family and a loaf of bread and head to the water to feed the ducks.

Ducks beg for our attention and our food, which makes them hard to resist. It’s great fun watching them gorge themselves on our leftovers, but the fact is, feeding ducks anything destroys their health and creates serious health risks to humans.  Once they get a taste for junk food they stop eating the healthy natural foods in their environment.

Wild and Domestic Duck Breeds are Not the Same

There are fundamental differences between wild and domestic ducks. Feeding them is not just bad for their health, it’s dangerous to our health too.

Wild Ducks

The colorful Mallards and other wild ducks you see on many lakes and ponds have bodies that allow them to fly. They are physically designed to eat natural foods growing in their environment to stay healthy and light for flight. Sometimes a specially formulated duck food is provided to them, but only under strict supervision of park officials, when wild ducks are in a man-made setting or natural foods are not available. When wild ducks are fed human foods their organs become engorged and fatty on the inside and they quickly die from malnutrition, heart disease, liver problems, and other health complications. An overfed, malnutritioned duck is sluggish and can’t escape from predators. Feeding wild ducks adversely affects natural migration patterns, which are critical for their ongoing survival.

Domestic Ducks

Domestic breeds, like the popular Pekin, a white duck with orange beak and feet (think AFLAC), are physically limited, Domestic ducks that you often see swimming alongside wild breeds do not belong in wild settings. They have been bred on farms for hundreds of years for meat or egg production. Some of these ducks become pets in private homes.

Domestic breeds are not born with fine-tuned instincts and resources of wild ducks. Nearly all domestic breeds can’t fly. They rely on humans for their daily care and feeding and are especially vulnerable to predators. They due quickly in the wild, mostly from complications from being fed human foods. Predatory attacks are common because domestic ducks can’t fly away to safety. They die of starvation in winter months in cold climates where food resources become scarce. Feeding these stranded ducks might seem like the only way to save them, but in fact it is attracting more trouble than they can handle. Calling a wildlife rehabilitation expert is the most humane course or action. Feeding them is not the answer.

Under controlled conditions such as on farms or in private homes, domestic ducks are fed a balanced diet to maintain their health until they are

  1. ready for slaughter;
  2. to keep them healthy for egg laying;
  3. to maintain the long term health of a family pet.

Depending on the use for the duck, whether food or as a pet, the balance of nutrients will change slightly. The food routinely purchased in feed stores and pet shops is a staple food. A pet duck can be given treats occasionally as long as the staple food remains the main source of nutrition.

Without Predators You’d Have Parks Full of Dead, Rotting Ducks

Domestic breeds are seen more and more in parks and other wild settings because they are dumped there by the thousands every year, typically in the months following Easter. These ducks increase in numbers every year not because they reproduce at a natural place. People “release” these ducks with the misconception that they are returning them to their natural environment. The natural environment for a domestic breed of duck is a farm. Dumped ducks don’t survive long, they have imprinted on humans and rarely die of natural causes in a wild setting.

Feeding domestic ducks living in “wild” settings encourages over-breeding. Ducks become unnaturally aggressive towards each other and a nuisance to humans. They lose their fear and will cross a busy highway to get to people with potential handouts. They die in greater numbers than most people realize because a dead or dying duck is preyed on before the body is found by humans.

Without predators to carry them off you’d have parks full of dead, rotting ducks. Such a horrific sight would shock most of us enough to stop feeding them.

So many people are feeding the ducks that uneaten food is left to rot. Decaying food pollutes the water and attracts animals that prey on ducks and can be a danger to people. Rats and bugs eat the leftovers and become a dangerous nuisance. In a matter of days, rotting food forms dangerous molds and spawns disease. Diseases traced back to scattered food include Salmonella and Botulism. These may be contracted by humans, especially children. In addition, Aspergillus and Duck Virus Enteritis kill of entire duck populations. In some cases a disease outbreak makes euthanized entire waterfowl communities the only option in order to eradicate the spread of disease to more animals and humans.

A Duck Will Eat Anything

Are there any safe treats? The answer is no. It is unsafe to feed waterfowl any foods, even in urban settings. You may think just a “little something” won’t hurt, or see others doing it and feel entitled too. For every person you see feeding them there are dozens more you don’t see.

Human Ignorance is a Duck’s Worst Enemy

Pet stores and animal shelters can play a part in educating the public about the dangers of feeding ducks. School children can be taught that respecting and protecting wildlife means not feeding them. Signs posted in urban areas, and laws prohibiting feeding ducks can be passed and enforced. In settings where domestics are encouraged by trained caretakers and feeding is allowed, feeders containing foods that are safe for ducks can be implemented. I’ve seen highly populated areas that provide feeders with proceeds going to local charities.

Food Attracts More than Just Ducks

  1. Feeding ducks attracts rats, pests, and predators that kill ducks and endanger humans.
  2. Rotting food pollutes the water and breeds deadly diseases and parasites. . .
  • A single outbreak of Duck Virus Enteritis (caused by artificial feeding) kills all of the ducks.
  • Uneaten food quickly forms a deadly mold called Aspergillus; fatal to ducks without early diagnosis and expensive treatment.
  • Avian Botulism (caused by artificial feeding) kills entire waterfowl populations and hospitalizes people.
  • Artificially fed ducks emit a parasite causing a condition in humans called Swimmer’s Itch.
  1. Ducks defecate at the site of scattered food or bread, bacteria in feces creates much higher risks for illness or disease.
  2. Most waterfowl die-offs in the past 10 years have been attributed to artificial feeding.
  3. Food waste bobbing on the water’s edge is ugly.
  4. Ducks that are overfed create dangerous amounts of waste that harms fish and other animals living in ponds.
  5. Some foods like corn may be OK as a snack for ducks, but fish can’t digest it and die. Seeds cause severe cramping pain in ducks.

Please don’t feed the ducks.

“Good Luck’ can Kill a Duck

Coins and objects tossed into water are ingested by ducks and pose a serious health hazard. The amount of zinc in a single penny is enough to kill a duck. Ducks scour the bottom of ponds and lakes in search of food and ingest coins, hardware, fishing tackle and lead pellets. At home, screws, nails, paper clips, or any small objects found on the ground can be ingested by a pet duck. Objects should never be tossed into the water or left on the ground for a duck to find.

Foreign objects that can’t be digested quickly lodge themselves in the gizzard. As digestion begins the metal breaks down and toxins enter the bloodstream, bones, and muscle tissue. Symptoms of poisoning include weakness, diarrhea, collapse, and death. With early treatment by an avian specialist the duck has a small chance of survival. Treatment is expensive.

What You can do to Protect Your Local Ducks

The next time you are out enjoying your community’s lakes, ponds, canals, golf courses, and other places where ducks live, simply observe the beauty of the animals and refrain from interfering by feeding them.

Never toss coins or other objects into water where animals live.

Remember that ducks live much longer when they eat foods growing naturally in their environment.

Educate others about the dangers of feeding ducks. Most people don’t realize they are doing anything wrong, some mistakenly believe they are helping.

  • Tell people what you learned on the LiveDucks website.
  • Print this article and take it to school classrooms where ducks and chickens are studied.
  • Encourage Parks and Recreation Departments to post signs warning people about the dangers of feeding waterfowl and wildlife. This sign is posted in New York locations where waterfowl lives, and may be used withpermission.

Do your part and make a duck’s life safer, happier, better.

Posted on April 16, 2014 and filed under Wildlife & Insects.

Insects Resembling Mosquitoes

By Orange County Vector Control District 


There are a number of small flying insects present in Orange County that residents frequently confuse with mosquitoes. Though closely resembling mosquitoes, these insects are not equipped with the specialized mouth parts required to bit and take blood. Brief descriptions of the common mosquito-like flies or “gnats” most often encountered by Orange County residents are included on this information sheet.

Midges (Chironomidae)

Midges are the most prevalent group of mosquito-like flies that invariably are mistaken for mosquitoes. Midges are harmless and do not bite. They can be distinguished from mosquitoes by the absence of the beak (proboscis) and scales on the wings. When at rest, midges hold their wings in an inverted “V” pattern with the forelegs extended outward. Mosquitoes fold their wings over the back of the body with the fore legs “grasping” the surface upon which they have landed. The larvae of midges develop in all types of aquatic sources including, rivers, lakes, canals, and ornamental ponds. A few species have hemoglobin and are called “blood worms.” Large swarms of midges can occur periodically throughout the year at which time they can present quite a nuisance and a great deal of concern.

Dixid Midges (Dixidae)

This group of midges also resembles mosquitoes and will swarm during the evening near their aquatic breeding sources. Like the previous midges, these insects also lack a proboscis and scales on the wings. The larvae resemble and often are confused with the larvae of malaria mosquitoes (Anopheles). Periodically, dixids produce a large emergences, but only in local and certain ecological situations.

Moth Flies (Psychodidae)

Moth flies are small and “fuzzy” looking with speckled wings held in a tent-like posture over the back of the body. The adults are commonly found near highly polluted water sources and frequently will emerge in large numbers from abandoned swimming pools, ornamental ponds, and flooded utility vaults. Adults are known to emerge indoors from sink traps and bathtub drains, and are often seen on the walls of bathrooms and showers.

Crane Flies (Tipulidae)

Crane flies, popularly known as “mosquito hawks,” are not predacious and usually many times larger than a typical mosquito. They are common insects found in residential areas throughout Orange County. Adults are strongly attracted to porch lights where their presence becomes a familiar site to most residents. The larvae live in loose soil or organic matter and feed on the roots of plants. Although they resemble mosquitoes, crane flies are harmless and do not bite. When conditions are right in the spring, large larval populations may develop and produce large swarms of adults.

Fungus Gnats (Mycetophilidae)

These small dark flies are mostly 1/8 or 3/8 inches long. They are found here throughout the year where they inhabit damp, decaying organic matter such as leaf mold, manure, and organic fertilizers and mulches where the larvae feed, especially on fungus growth. Occasionally they may be found breeding within planter boxes for house plants where the moisture favors them. The larvae of the various species are mostly whitish, slender maggots with dark heads. Development from the egg stage to the adult gnat usually takes two to four weeks. The adults are often attracted to lights at night.

Dance Flies (Empididae)

Dance flies appear like mosquitoes by the way they swarm in sunlit areas in backyards and other sheltered situations. The vertical movements of the swarming adults gives them their common name. Day time activity of dance flies are not typical of mosquitoes which characteristically begin their flights shortly after sunset.

Biting, Midges, Punkies, and No-See-Ums (Ceratopogonidae)

These tiny bloodsucking flies are vicious daytime biters that breed in either saline or alkaline waters associated with vernal pools, coastal salt marshes, and mud-cracked flatlands. Adults of most species are less than 1/16 inch long and persons being bitten seldom witness bites in progress which gives these flies their colloquial name as “no-see-ums”. Individuals sensitive to their bites often will develop itching ulcerates sores that may persist for several weeks.

Mayfly (Ephemeroptera)

Adult mayflies are recognized by the way they hold their wings at rest and presence of two or three long “caudal” filaments at the tip of the abdomen. Though not even closely resembling mosquitoes, their seasonal occurrence at porch lights and on the walls of buildings near their aquatic breeding sources invariably attracts the attention of some concerned residents. The nymphs of mayflies develop in all types of aquatic habitats where they form an important part of the food chain. Adults are amongst the most short lived in the insect world surviving perhaps only hours to a few days after emergence.

Black Flies (Simuliidae)

Black flies are small, humpbacked, grayish-black flies that can inflict painful and irritating bite during daylight hours to both humans and animals. The larvae are typically found attached to objects such as gravel, rocks, or plants in flowing streams.

Posted on April 16, 2014 and filed under Wildlife & Insects.