Would you like to know how to help our ducks & geese? This post introduces you to our feathered wildfowl, who you may often see on public ponds or near other freshwater places across England. This post focuses mostly on ducks and geese (if you find an injured one, call your vet or local wildlife rescue. Also see how to help our beautiful swans.
Wildfowl is the collective name given to swans, ducks and geese. Often found on village ponds, many types migrate, so you only see them for half the year. But although they form a strong part of our wildlife heritage, modern life has severely impacted their safety and habitats. If you want to go into detail, Ducks and Geese is a detailed biography of each species by RSPB , including their anatomy, feeding methods, courtship displays, breeding and behaviour. In summary, our waterbirds include 3 types of birds:
- Geese are of many varieties, and spend most time on land. They are very loyal and attach to whoever they first see, so often make good ‘guard dogs’ if they live with you. Geese are very social and fly in a V pattern, taking the leader’s place, if he gets tired. If a geese falls to the ground due to illness, two other geese will stay with it.
- Ducks are interesting creatures, who have extremely waterproof feathers, and often migrate. Eider ducks can be helped by avoiding buying ‘eider down’ duvets (many birds have their feathers plucked while alive) and ruddy ducks are severely endangered, near extinction. Ducks are faithful, but don’t stay with the same mate for life, like swans. They don’t quack, but do make noises.
- Swans are our largest waterbirds, and again there are many types including mute swans (they do make a noise!), whooping swans and black swans (native to Australia, most live on private land).
Things Ducks & Geese Like
Greylag goose, British Wildlife Photography Awards
- Village Ponds. Although garden ponds are good for wildlife, most wildfowl live on bigger public waterways (wildfowl sanctuaries often like landowners with no predators like dogs to be on call, for disabled birds to live out their lives in peace, after injury).
- Underwater Food. Wildfowl like various foods, although ducks eat more ‘living foods’ than geese, which are mostly vegetarian (they don’t eat sunflower seeds apparently). This is far better for them than bread, which in many cases can harm (see below).
- Railway Tracks. Wildfowl often believe these are rivers, in rainy weather. Trains are often delayed with wildfowl waddling along the tracks. Another reason to join Chris Packham’s legal challenge to stop HS2 (will kill 22,000 wildlife yearly).
Things Ducks & Geese Don’t Like
- People who eat pate de foie gras. This cruel food is made by force-feeding geese until their livers turn to pate. It’s banned on welfare grounds here but legal to sell. Eat plant-based alternatives (like this faux-gras above!)
- People who eat them. If you eat duck or goose, ensure it’s from free-range farmers, so at least the creatures have some kind of welfare, while alive. Or try tins of mock duck (seitan in gravy) or recipes for vegan duck pancakes or Peking (not really) Duck.
- Fishing waste. If you angle, take all your fishing waste with you, and dispose of it responsibly (sealed in the bin or in a fishing line recycling bin that doesn’t resemble a bird’s nest). Lead shot was banned a few years back, but still lurks in some riverbeds.
- Oil. Oil spills cause all birds to lose insulation and waterproofing, so they freeze or drown. Recycle used oil, use waterless car wash (to stop oily water going down storm drains) and use a funnel when changing the oil. Antifreeze is lethal to pets and wildlife, so let your mechanic change it (or change within a controlled environment with a funnel: use sand or kitty litter to soak up spills).
- Botulism (the organism found in honey, why babies should never eat it) also harms wildfowl flocks, caused by slow-running water in warm weather. The best prevention is better water and field tests.
- Dogs. We love dogs, but wildfowl don’t, as they are natural predators. If you have a dog, keep on the lead near where wildfowl are, for the safety of both creatures.
- Plastic. This can choke them, everything from plastic bags to those plastic rings to hold beer cans (if you drink beer, buy brands wrapped in cardboard like Stella Artois).
- Balloons. These only biodegrade 6 months after being released, and harm wildlife on land and and at sea (one horse recently died from choking on a balloon). Likewise with fire lanterns, which fall to the ground with a metal spike (they endanger coastguard/lifeboat lives who mistake them for flares and are fire hazards: animals died recently in a German zoo, due to a fire caused by a fire lantern).
- Kites. The string gets wrapped around bird necks/wings and they land in the sea or land. If you use them, choose biodegradable kites (slightly less dangerous) and avoid use at dawn/dusk, when birds are more likely flying.
- People that hunt or shoot them. Join League against Cruel Sports to stop harming these beautiful creatures, for fun.
- Toxic plants. Many plants are toxic to wildfowl (geese can die from water-run-off from foxgloves and gooseberry bushes contain cyanide. Read up on plants that are toxic to geese and ducks.
Should You Feed Bread to Wildfowl?
Although it’s traditional, millions of people feeding wild birds at the same time can lead to problems. Never feed white, mouldy or stale/hard bread (pizza crust, crackers, stale rolls etc) nor fat (butter, lard, roast dinner grease, sandwich leftovers). This stops waterproofing/insulation of feathers, and can stop them flying.
Artificial feeding encourages birds to be near roads and dogs, and to rely on you. Most wildfowl can live on what’s under the water. If you feed them, Canal River Trust says feed tiny amounts of of sweetcorn, lettuce and defrosted peas (bite-size as ducks don’t chew their food).
Don’t stop feeding suddenly or birds could starve – gradually reduce food in summer, when there is plenty of natural food around. Throw food on the water, so birds stay in their natural environment, and won’t choke on dry bread. But avoid throwing too much, as uneaten bread can cause algae and disease.