Mr & Mrs Spectacled Eider Duck try a new Fad Diet
An example of what not to feed to ducks!

Many years ago, long before my gardening obsession began, I spent a season or two living in a ground floor flat in Newbury that had patio doors that opened onto a backwater. Shortly after moving in we made friends with the local duck population, to the point where we bought poultry corn from the pet stall on the market for them – bread not being the best food for ducks.

As the weeks wore on we developed a duck following, and soon enough they brought their adorable little chicks to our back door for feeding. The little chicks grew and grew, and turned into little ducks capable of hopping up over the door step into the living room. We thought they were adorable.

They kept growing. Eventually they were well-fed, mature ducks of monstrous proportions. At 5pm every day they would tap on the patio doors, waiting to be fed. They still tried to come inside, but having a duck the size of a chihuahua roaming around the living room was less cute, and we insisted they stay outside. I moved out not long after that, and I often wonder what they thought of the new occupants, and vice versa.

Feeding the ducks is part and parcel of English life, and throwing chunks of stale bread at them is the norm – according to the Canal & River Trust we throw 6 million loaves of bread into our canals and rivers each year. As bread is the equivalent of junk food for ducks, they would like to see our waterways become ‘no dough areas’, and have some suggestions of what else we can feed our feathered friends. On their website they have some ideas of what else you can do with your leftover bread.

Duck house

They’ve also put together a list of possible alternative duck snacks, some of which can make use of leftovers such as sweetcorn, lettuce and cooked rice.

But what if you wanted to go further and grow your own duck food? The nice people at the Canal & River Trust have done a duck ‘taste test’ to see which veggies they really like (although it would be interesting to see if there are regional preferences in duck tastes!).

They found that the ducks didn’t like watercress very much – they didn’t seem to recognise it as food (and neither did the swans), which is interesting, considering it grows in rivers and streams. So if you grow that you can keep it for yourself 🙂

Iceberg lettuce was much more popular, being voted 6/10 by the ducks. To keep your poultry pals happy (and chickens are just as fond of greens as ducks!), here’s some advice on growing leafy greens from The Allotment Pocket Bible:

A large selection of salad leaves is now available, and the choice of lettuces is also immense. Salad crops are ideal anywhere, as they tuck in wherever there’s space and are happy in containers. Different varieties are vest at different times of the year (it’s possible to grow winter lettuce).

Sow seeds in small batches to avoid gluts, then plant out the seedlings as space becomes available. Keep well watered in summer, or plants will flower quickly. Harvest cut-and-come-again leaves once they are large enough. Lettuces that form dense hearts are cut once.

It seems the ducks enjoy a little more flavour in their food, as – like so many people these days – they were fond of rocket (which suggests to me that they might also like radish and turnip leaves, which are less commonly eaten by people).

But it turns out that ducks are really hipsters at heart, giving their highest scores to pea shoots, which are really easy to grow on the windowsill, and kale, which is an allotment favourite. From the Allotment Pocket Bible again:

Kale is the ultimate winter vegetable: very hardy and productive. Some kale varieties are ornamental, but they take up a lot of space and are in the ground for a long time; they aren’t the best choice for containers or a small plot.

Sow seeds outside in April and May. If you want to grow full-sized plants then they need to be at least 45cm apart, but if you’re growing them for cut-and-come-again salad (baby) eaves then space them closer. Large kale plants can be rocked by the wind in winter and may need staking on exposed plots.

Harvest baby leaves for salad, for leave plants to mature until they’re needed for the winter months. Harvest the younger top leaves, rather than the older ones. Kale leaves are less bitter after a frost.

Of course, you’ll still have to tear leafy greens up into bite-sized chunks for the ducks, just as you would have done with the bread. You’ll have them queuing up to eat their greens….

Queuing for duck food

Have you tried growing your own duck food, or feeding leftovers (other than bread) to the ducks? What did you find that they preferred?

The Allotment Pocket Bible, my handy guide to growing your own on an allotment, can sometimes be found on the shelves of a good book shop, but is always available from Amazon 🙂

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