By Ellen Mitchell
For Michigan State University junior Kaitlyn Strehl, nothing feels better than getting out of the house and feeding the ducks along the Red Cedar River in East Lansing, Mich. But the activity she shares with others in the Great Lakes region causes problems for wildlife.
Ducks don’t naturally stay for a frigid Great Lakes winter, but these stubborn waterfowl will stay put year-round if they have a steady food supply. As many of their relatives fly south, some ducks brave the cold and stay in northern states due to the promise of food from residents.
“It’s pretty much good practice not to feed wild animals,” said Ben Purdy, land management specialist for the Grand Traverse Conservation District, a natural resource management company in Traverse City, Mich.
Purdy said ducks in the Great Lakes region naturally feed off the greenery on the bottom of rivers and ponds in the spring and summer. But with limited food supplies in the winter, ducks may grow reliant on the scraps people throw them and come to expect the food every season.
“If you feed the ducks, over time, you’ll have unnatural concentrations of wildlife,” Purdy said. “This can cause a number of problems, from E. coli from the ducks’ excess droppings in the water, to too many ducks for the natural system to support.”
Strehl might rethink her plans for a springtime stroll.
“I thought I was helping the ducks,” Strehl said. “Now I know better.”