Enjoying swans and ducks on our lakes and waterways is one of the great pleasures of living on the Gold Coast.
I’m often asked ‘what’s the best food for swans?’ It definitely isn’t bread. Bread is not good for any species of bird. Their digestive system is not designed to metabolize refined flour, preservatives, yeast or refined sugar. And yet bread to a swan is like lollies (candy) to a kid. They’ll gollop it down. Same is true for ducks.
Bread displaces the natural foods the birds should be eating. It’s very high in protein compared to a swan’s natural diet of water weeds. If swans eat too much bread, for too long, they become weak and breed unhealthy young. If cygnets (baby swans) eat a lot of bread (or grains) they can experience a growth spurt causing their body to develop too quickly for their legs. They become plump to a point where they can barely stand or walk. Parent swans, fed a lot of bread, can hatch cygnets suffering from a condition called ‘angel wing’ (pic at left). This is a deformity of the outer wing joint(s) causing the feathers on one, or both wings, to grow out sideways. Birds with angel wing will never fly and are often bullied and shunned by fellow swans. Swans, ducks, other water birds and domestic poultry can all develop angel wing from eating bread or being fed too much grains.
If moldy bread is fed to swans or ducks, it can kill them.
You’ll notice that in the wild swans dip their head underwater. They do this to feed on the stems and roots of water weeds. These ‘green foods’ are a swan’s natural diet, supplemented by grasses on the land, plus the occasional bug or insect.
I know that bread is very convenient and clearly swans and ducks love it, but to maintain good health they need to eat a natural diet, or foods that are close to their natural diet.
Try the following mixture which is suitable for swans and ducks ….
Rip up lettuce and toss it into the shallows where swans can reach it (don’t throw their food onto a sandy beach). You can also sprinkle sweet corn kernels from a can into the shallows. Most swans love corn.
Alternatively, fill a low bowl with clean water (direct from the tap, not from a hose) and drop in handfuls of ripped up lettuce, then garnish with sweet corn kernels from a can. Be sure to leave the bowl in the shade. Only leave it in direct sun for a few minutes max, or the water will get hot and the food become unpalatable. Take this mixture a step further by adding some finely shredded silverbeet, and toss in a some grated carrot and chopped broccoli. Most swans love peas, which you could also add to the mixture. (never give them garlic, onion or chili)
This nutritious ‘swan soup’ is good for swans and ducks. However, don’t feel disappointed if they turn up their nose first time and give you a look that says, ‘OK, where’s the bread?’ Persist, because they will get used to it. You can even add a small handful of millet or mixed grains (from a pet store), but remember the less grains the better.
It’s preferable not to feed wild birds at all, and so it’s your responsibility to do the right thing and only provide foods which are close to a swan’s natural diet of waterweeds and grasses. This will help them grow into beautiful, healthy birds.