You never know what experiences might shape a child’s future. Close encounters with nature might be the trigger that inspires a child to become a scientist. Interacting with nature comes in a variety of forms, from having a picnic outside to going for a hike or a camping adventure. Even simple excursions to the park can expose kids to wildlife - seeing squirrels in the trees to feeding the ducks in the nearby pond. Although most of us remember happily feeding ducks when we were younger, feeding wild animals comes with risks that we might not have ever considered.
Ducks, like people, enjoy a varied diet. In order to remain healthy, they need to forage for different types of foods, such as plants, seeds, snails, worms, insects and sometimes even small fish. Unfortunately, when ducks come to expect being fed by park visitors, they often are too full to forage for their normal foods. White bread, what people usually feed to ducks, is inexpensive and readily available. But it’s also devoid of nutrients. That means that ducks can get filled with the equivalent of junk food, leaving little energy or motivation to eat their regular diet, or even to teach their ducklings what to eat in the wild. Extra bread in the water can also become problematic for the ecosystem. When it isn’t consumed by the ducks, it can start to rot, which depletes the water of oxygen, harming the other organisms that live there.
Look, I don’t want to rain on your parade! Like I said earlier, interacting with wildlife can inspire kids to learn more about nature. So, what’s a family to do? If you still want to feed the ducks, try to feed them foods that are closer to their natural diet, such as defrosted frozen peas, shredded lettuce, bird seed or duck pellets from a local feed store. And please, do so in moderation. It’s best if the ducks see your treats as simply a snack, instead of as their main source of food.
Ducklings tend to stay very close to their family. If you find a duckling that is alone, or a group without their mother, pay close attention. See if you can hear their mother calling, or if they might be separated by a physical barrier, such as a busy street. If it’s clear that they are alone, they will need your help. Ducklings do not have a full set of feathers to keep warm, so that’s your first order of business. Since they can leap surprisingly high, you will need to find a container, such as a deep cardboard box or plastic storage bin, to store them. Line the bottom with newspaper, a towel or pine shavings. You will need to use a warming lamp or a hot water bottle to keep the babies warm. Since they are used to snuggling underneath their mother for warmth, you might want to offer them a large stuffed animal to hide under. The biggest mistake that people make is to provide the ducklings with water to swim in. Since they do not have their proper feathers, they are not waterproof yet, and without a mom to keep them warm, they can easily perish from the cold. They do need drinking water, however, but it should be in a very shallow dish, such as a jar lid. Ideally, you are offering temporary housing to these young orphans. Call your local wildlife rescue organization for advice. They are likely going to host the ducklings, rehabilitate them and then release them back into the wild when they are ready.
It takes a special touch to raise orphaned ducklings. International Bird Rescue, in the San Francisco Bay Area, knows just what to do. For example, the duckling above was a singleton, which meant that she had no siblings to keep her company. Their solution? Give her a mirror, so she sees "another duck" to keep her company! Even better is her feather duster companion, offering some physical comfort.
Duckling photos were all taken at International Bird Rescue (IBR), which takes in hundreds of orphaned ducklings every year. To learn more about IBR and their amazing bird rescue work, please visit their website.