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Feeding ducks ruffles feathers

A Christchurch river-care group is calling on council to do more to stop people feeding the city’s ducks.

Feeding ducks is an age-old tradition, but the Opawaho-Heathcote River Network says it harms waterways – and ducks.

Network co-chair Karen Whitla said the group had tried using social media to warn people against duck-feeding, but now wanted the Christchurch City Council (CCC) to set up warning signs along the Heathcote River.

“It’s a very simple change people can make to help protect our waterways and wildlife.”

The network will take its proposal to the Spreydon-Cashmere Community Board in the next fortnight.

South Island Wildlife Hospital spokeswoman Pauline Howard said bread, in particular, was “rubbish food” for ducks and could cause angel wing, a fatal condition related to poor bone development.

Birds also produced  “big bulky bowel movements” when they ate bread, which increased pollution and added excessive nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – into waterways, she said.

“The ideal thing is just to not feed them anything. Then they’re encouraged to forage, which means eating plants and insects – the best diet for them.

“You can get duck pellets or feed them grain or popcorn, but ideally you just enjoy them and don’t feed them anything.”

CCC three waters and waste planning and delivery manager John Moore said a 2015 Institute of Environmental Science and Research report commissioned by council found waterfowl were the major source of faecal pollution in the city’s waterways during dry weather.

He said council was discussing ways to increase public awareness about the negative effects of feeding ducks.

Former CCC garden and heritage parks operations manager Jeremy Hawker last year said “friendly signage” warning about problems with duck feeding would be put up in the Botanic Gardens, but signs had not yet been erected.

_By Charlotte Carter for The Press