Children skipping along a park trail, giggling as a duck gobbles up bread, is a happy scene that takes place every day at Temecula’s Duck Pond as well as Harveston Lake.
Feeding ducks is a tradition many families have shared for generations. It often brings about a sense of nostalgia for parents or grandparents who bring their children to the water’s edge. Feeding the mallards and geese can be a throwback to simpler times and a slower pace of life.
However, this seemingly friendly pastime has a dark side. According to wildlife experts, when wild ducks are fed human food, their organs become engorged and fatty. This can eventually lead to heart disease and liver problems.
“Bread is high in sugar and has very few nutrients,” said Rob Hicks, a park interpreter at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. Hicks is an educational teacher at the reserve and spoke on the topic of wildlife being fed by the public.
“Temecula naturally had a lot of wetlands, streams, pools or water. So it is natural for the city to have ducks migrating there even if they are now migrating to man-made ponds,” said Hicks.
Hicks said ducks naturally eat plants and insects but when the public feeds them human food it messes with the bird’s natural ecological system.
“When people feed wildlife it creates an association between people and food,” said Hicks. “The ducks get lazy; they linger around waiting to get fed as opposed to working for their food (and) foraging in the wild.”
Staff members in the Community Services Department are currently weighing in about the health and safety of the ducks and the water quality at the duck pond at the corner of Ynez Road and Rancho California Road and Harveston Lake.
Director of Community Services Kevin Hawkins said the city is not taking any action at this time in regard to feeding the ducks.
“We do have concerns over the water quality, and health of the ducks but we are in the early stages of a review,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said nothing formal is being discussed but informally there was talk about putting up signs to ask the public not to feed the wildlife.
Matt Wiechec, a park landscape maintenance supervisor, said the food the public throws into the water to try to feed the fowl often turns foul if it is not eaten.
“Water quality is always a concern and what the public throws into the water can pollute it,” Weichec said.
According to the Duck Rescue Network, decaying food pollutes the water and food left for ducks can attract vermin. Waterfowl and rats will defecate where they feed which is at the pond edge.
Naturally, the amount of feces they produce is directly proportional to the amount they eat. Thus an overpopulation of waterfowl can cause unsafe bacteria levels in the water.
“The public needs to remember what goes in the ducks must come out of the ducks. What we feed the wildlife does affect their quality of life,” Hawkins said.
“Our department is not making any changes at this time but we do ask the public to be mindful of what they throw into the water because it does have a direct effect on the wildlife,” Hawkins said.