As many of you will know there has been a lot of debate in recent years about feeding bread to swans, ducks and other waterfowl. The ManxSPCA has always maintained that feeding bread is fine as long as the birds also have access to a natural diet, but it seems that the ‘Ban the Bread’ message is starting to have a detrimental effect on birds both here on the Island and in the UK, as winter sets in.
The Queen’s Swan Marker, David Barber, MVO, has issued the following statement:
‘There has been a great deal of press coverage in recent months regarding the ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign which is confusing many members of the public who like to feed swans. Supporters of the campaign claim that bread should not be fed to swans on the grounds that it is bad for them. This is not correct. Swans have been fed bread for many hundreds of years without causing any ill effects. While bread may not be the best dietary option for swans compared to their natural food such as river weed, it has become a very important source of energy for them, supplementing their natural diet and helping them to survive the cold winter months when vegetation is very scarce.
There is no good reason not to feed bread to swans, provided it is not mouldy. Most households have surplus bread and children have always enjoyed feeding swans with their parents. The ‘Ban the Bread’ campaign is already having a deleterious impact upon the swan population; I am receiving reports of underweight cygnets and adult birds, and a number of swans from large flocks have begun to wander into roads in search of food. This poses the further risk of swans being hit by vehicles. Malnutrition also increases their vulnerability to fatal diseases like avian-flu which has caused the deaths of many mute swans and other waterfowl in the past.
Furthermore, there have been statements made in the media claiming that feeding bread causes angel-wing in swans. Angel-wing is a condition where a cygnet develops a deformed wing. Professor Christopher Perrins, LVO, FRS of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University stated ‘There is no evidence of a connection between feeding bread and angel-wing; at least some cygnets develop this condition without ever having seen any bread’.
I therefore encourage members of the public to continue feeding swans to help improve their chances of survival, especially through the winter.’
In the Summer months, however, bread can have a detrimental effect. In places like Silverdale Glen where the ducks are sometimes fed more bread than they can eat, it can sink to the bottom of the pond and pollute the water; and feeding bread to birds when they have ducklings in tow puts the young birds in even more danger of being ‘picked off’ by hungry gulls.
Feeding our garden birds is also vitally important at this time of year. Bad winters, such as our last one, have an impact on bird numbers, and small birds suffer particularly badly. However, the tit family (blue, coal, long-tailed, etc.) have bucked the trend and their sightings have increased. This is thought to be because they are able to adapt and take advantage of the food that people provide for them in their gardens.
This demonstrates that what we do in our gardens is important and can have a direct influence on the future of bird species. So, keep your bird feeders well stocked with nuts and seeds, and maybe consider buying a bird-feeding kit from the ManxSPCA. These kits are a great way to encourage children to get involved with helping wildlife, and they make ideal stocking-fillers.