For the many Lewiston-Clarkston Valley residents who enjoy feeding the community’s abundant flocks of ducks and geese, Jen Bruns of Idaho Fish and Game in Lewiston has this suggestion for their next excursion: Consider taking photographs with a camera, sketching pictures in a notepad or writing observations in a journal instead of bringing a loaf of white bread.

Bruns, communications manager for the Clearwater region of the agency, acknowledged the appeal of close-up interactions with birds. But what’s fun for people can harm waterfowl — even if the humans are offering healthier snacks in small amounts, such as worms or unprocessed oats — making it harder for the birds to survive in nature.

“Feeding wildlife is not always the best way to go,” Bruns said. “Birds can find food and naturally forage on their own.”

The mostly empty calories in white bread are only one of the reasons it’s a bad choice, she said, noting it’s not uncommon for litter like wrappers or plastic tags that close bread bags to be left behind.

“Bread expands in the water,” Bruns said. “It also expands in their stomachs and makes them feel full.”

That sensation of being satiated can make birds lazy and less likely to graze grass, hunt for small water insects or dive for aquatic plants that grow at the bottom of bodies of water. Together, those kinds of foods provide them nutrients to be alert and energetic so they have the capacity for tasks such as watching over their young.

Complicating the matter further, birds will consume even more heavily processed foods such as candy bars, chips or unfinished scraps of sandwiches. When people see ducks eat junk food, they wrongly conclude it won’t hurt them, Bruns said.

If birds overeat, become too densely populated or if excess food is left behind, it can lead to conditions that create foul smells and algae growth.

“It can cause a decrease in overall water quality,” Bruns said.

Feeding makes it more likely that large numbers of birds will be living in an area that can’t naturally sustain them, resulting in a host of issues such as attracting predators like foxes or feral dogs and cats.

“Skunks are fans of bird eggs, and so are raccoons,” Bruns said.

Frequent interactions with people lead to related problems, she said.

It’s not uncommon for families to bring young birds to the Fish and Game office that they believe have been abandoned.

“The best thing is to leave it alone,” Bruns said. “There’s not much we can do for them. There’s more of a chance to have survivability where they’re left than to bring them in.”

The bird’s parents could be close by and return for the baby, or the chick might be adopted into a family with multiple adults and youngsters, she said.

“We encourage … respecting their distance,” Bruns said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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