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Feeding Swan and Ducks

on July 05, 2021

What to feed swan and ducks.

Feeding swans, ducks and other waterfowl is a timeless past time enjoyed by people of all ages, all around the world.  Whether you’re feeding wild birds at a pond, river or lake, or helping injured or captive birds back to full health, ensuring they eat a diet which contains everything they need is important.

In this blog we’ll go through what ducks and swans need in their diet, what your options are, and the highly controversial subject of whether you should feed bread to swans and ducks.

Elderly person feeds ducks

Feeding swan and ducks

During the last year, feeding swan and ducks has grown hugely in popularity.  This is very likely down to people and parents looking for outside activities during lockdowns and the general increase in people taking up outside activities due to the importance of being in fresh air.

But even prior to this, feeding the ducks has always been popular, especially with parents looking for something to do as children of all ages enjoy watching and feeding the ducks.  Feeding the ducks is often one of the first nature encounters that children have, and is a great way to get them interested in animals and animal welfare nice and early.  The joy of going to feed the ducks is that it isn’t limited to those in the countryside as there are many ponds, lakes and rivers running through even the most urban of locations.

But what should you feed swans, ducks and other waterfowl?  Historically, bread is very popular, but in recent years it has been suggested that bread shouldn’t be used.

So, what should you feed?


What do swans and ducks eat?

Wild swans and ducks have a varied diet.  Swans eat aquatic vegetation, which they can take from the riverbed using their long necks.  They also eat molluscs which live on these plants, and they also eat small fish, worms and small frogs.  Swans can also live in a field of short grass, and will graze happily in grassy fields.  You might also see some species of swans in potato fields after harvest, feasting on the leftovers.

Ducks share a very similar diet, eating aquatic vegetation such as pond weed along with water dwelling insects, worms, water snails and amphibians.  They will also eat grass and grains, depending on the habit of where they live.


What should I feed ducks and swans?

The best time to feed swans and ducks is during the winter and colder weather as their natural diet may be harder to find or even frozen over.  Getting extra calories in their diet from human fed food is a great supplement when food is scarce, but should not replace a natural diet.

If you want to feed the ducks, there are some great natural options to feed responsibly.  Remember to always through your feed into the water and not the bank, so not to encourage feeding from the bank of a pond, lake or river.

These foods include the following :

Vegetables – Sweetcorn can be fed as fresh, frozen or tinned.  Make sure that the frozen sweetcorn is defrosted before feeding.  Avoid feeding in locations with fish as they sometimes find it hard to digest.  Frozen peas (defrosted) will prove popular and fish will be able to digest them easier.  Vegetable scraps such as torn up lettuce, courgettes, cucumber, cabbage and root vegetables will be quickly tucked into by waterfowl.  Make sure you cut them up into manageable chucks first!  Avoid feeding spinach, onions, avocados and citrus fruits.

Grains  – Uncooked oats, whether steel cut or rolled, are a great floated alternative to bread.  Other grains such as millet and wheat will also prove popular.  Rice can be fed both cooked and uncooked.

Mealworms – These little worms are packed full of protein and will be enjoyed by waterfowl all year around, particularly during winter and the breeding season.

You can also feed dedicated swan and duck food.  They are full of tasty goodness which will help supplement a swan or ducks natural diet.  They also float, which makes feeding super easy for waterfowl.  These feeds usually contain a mixture of grains, vegetables, seeds and fish meat or shrimp which complement a birds natural foraged diet.

Never feed mouldy food as this can be directly harmful to waterfowl.

 Feeding swans and ducks

Should I feed bread to swan and ducks

The simple answer here is no.  Bread is equivalent to junk food for waterfowl.  It can lead to weight gain and malnutrition due to the lack of, well, nutritional value.  It can also rot when left uneaten which could spread disease. 

Bread is high in carbohydrates which may lead to fat swan and ducks, which ultimately can disrupt natural migration patterns.  There has also been studies that show that too much bread can lead waterfowl to get hooked on bread and reduce the amount they forage naturally.


There is a school of thought that bread in moderation is ok, and is better than nothing in freezing weather.  As long as it only forms a small part of the swan and ducks diet, a little nibble of stale bread will be just fine.  The problem is that you may not know who else has fed the ducks bread that day, and who may feed them afterwards. 

Moderation is impossible to judge in a circumstance such as that, which is why it’s always better to play it safe and feed an alternative to bread.


When should I stop feeding swans and ducks?

When feeding the ducks, only do so whilst the birds are eating it.  Don’t feed too much excess as this can create problems in water and change the water quality.  Generally, avoid feeding in hot weather to avoid creating algal problems within the water.

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