Crowdsourcing duck information

December 3, 2019 • 9:19 am

Here’s the deal: we still have about 15 wild mallards hanging around Botany Pond, and we’re still feeding them. The pond has not frozen over, and the ducks are hungry. They vary in number: sometimes there are only two and sometimes there are none. But they always appear in groups of a dozen or more for their meals.

The question, and please answer only if you have an informed opinion about this:


Our concern is that we may be keeping the ducks from migrating by feeding them, although I know that some ducks, even in the Chicago area, will overwinter. But they do so only where there is open water.

Botany Pond will freeze for the winter before too long. Also, I don’t want ducks hanging around until spring, as we may be inundated with nesting females. The three broods we had during the past spring and summer was about the limit we can handle.

We have already asked several people with duck experience, and the answers are divergent, ranging from “stop feeding them” to “you never should have fed any of them, including ducklings” (not tenable) to “keep feeding them; they’ll leave when they’re ready.”

Please answer only if you have some expertise in duck tending or have some experience and knowledge about ducks. I thank you, and my ducks thank you.

15 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing duck information

  1. An opportunity for an A/B test. Feed only half the ducks and see what happens. Ok, I’m only joking. I am interested in what the experts say on this subject. In short, “sub”.

  2. This is an important question and I’m eagerly waiting to learn from the experts in the WEIT community. I wish I knew!

  3. I can only tell you we have ducks and geese here in urban Wichita, Kansas and they move around on several pieces of water in this part of town. They are not being fed by humans. If and when it gets cold enough to freeze over, the birds will move out. Some have young ones here during the spring and summer. Some people do not like the geese because they do leave quite a mess and they do things in attempt to get the geese to move out of their specific area. This includes, using lasers and spraying eggs with spam oil.

  4. I googled “feeding delays duck migration” without quotes and, glancing through the results, it seems many states’ wildlife pages warn against feeding birds and delaying their migration. From the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation(

    “Feeding alters normal migration patterns of waterfowl by shortening or even eliminating them. Ducks, reluctant to leave in the winter, may not survive sudden cold. If the artificial feeding is stopped in time, ducks and geese can quickly adapt to finding natural foods and will follow their companions south. In West Haven, Connecticut, 30 swans died from starvation at an artificial feeding site during the harsh winter of 93-94. Meanwhile, over 800 swans survived nearby on natural food.”

    1. That sounds like wise advice. It congtains no scolding for feeding them in the first place (so they don’t have a chip on their shoulder), just biologically sensible data-driven advice.

  5. Yes, and I wonder if PCC(e) will have to tend to more dinosaurs if he continues providing copious amounts of high quality noms. I know I wouldn’t leave. In fact I would bring the host’s books and have him draw some cats in them, while I scarfed down the chow.

  6. I’m not sure I can be counted as an expert (although I did a bachelor thesis on diving ducks about 50 years ago) but I would say that regularly feeding wild animals modify their behavior, including migratory behavior. As they are robust flyers, and till now well fed, I would stop feeding them immediately, before every other ressource becomes unavailable both in the vicinity and on their way to better wintering places.

  7. No expert here, but I think you should stop feeding now. Checking the Chicago weather forecast, you have about a week of mild weather before it turns pretty cold. It will take a few days for them to move on and it is better that be done before the pond freezes.

  8. Based on the comments above and some pondering, we’ve decided to stop feeding the ducks. Yesterday was there last meal. It breaks my heart to do this, as they are so HUNGRY and I love them. But it’s time for them to move on before winter sets in for good.

    1. Take heart, Jerry. According to what I’ve read at many wildlife sites including the Audubon website, you’re doing the right thing letting them go, and within just days of their taking flight, they’ll be in more salubrious climes.

  9. Stop feeding them! They will soon lose the ability to feed and fend for themselves, especially since you’ve gone thru 2-+ generations already.

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