WE were feeding bread to some ducks at Kirkland’s Juanita Bay Park when a woman and her son approached us.
“You shouldn’t do that, you know,” she said to me as we watched the ducks bobbing and weaving to slurp up the bread pieces.
It was a fun show and the ducks appeared to enjoy competing for the easy meals, though, in truth, I had no idea what was going through their little duck brains. I also had no idea what might be going through this woman’s brain.
“Why not?” I asked her. I was genuinely more curious than annoyed at her interrupting what had been a pleasant experience.
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The woman’s expression went blank and she turned to her young son. “Can you explain it to him?” she asked him. I was not sure whether I had actually stumped her with the question, or if she was allowing her son to share something he had recently learned in earth sciences.
He hesitated for a moment before saying, “Well, it makes them dependent and less likely to look for food on their own.”
I admit I was expecting something more insightful than what sounded more like a derivation of a Fox News report on extending unemployment benefits or expanding welfare.
But the son seemed like a nice kid and the mom was appropriately polite and deferent. I nodded an assent and stopped feeding the ducks, who shortly paddled off for more productive feeding grounds.
I held out hope that my question had caught both of them flat-footed and that there is a better answer for not feeding bread to ducks — such as wheat intolerance or perhaps the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or other ingredients in industrial-baked bread that’s not good for their digestive systems.
But to me there is a bigger issue that must be weighed against the fear of creating a welfare state among members of the animal kingdom.
The animals were all here before we were, whether you accept Darwin or Genesis or a combination of the two. I also believe that as the most invasive species ever to exist on earth, human beings have managed habitat sharing about as well as every other invasive species has been known to manage it.
Which is to say, it’s each species for itself, and the invader usually wins. Which also means a few crumbs of bread to a handful of ducks in a tiny nature preserve will hardly create a welfare state among creatures more accustomed to being drenched in our oil spills and strangled by our carelessly discarded plastic soda bottles and beer-can rings.
No doubt the animal kingdom’s idea of creature comforts is a day without being eaten or having one’s nest raided by predators, so bread falling from the sky will hardly be viewed either biblically or as something that will soon lead to an outdoors world of lazy, shiftless species looking for a handout.
Back at home, our feeders are kept filled with seed and suet. Chickadees, nuthatches, Blue Jays and flickers flock in and out throughout the day. Once, when we were gone for two weeks, the feeders were emptied and probably were like that for several days. When refilled, it still took a couple of days before the birds were back.
“They found food somewhere else, when they didn’t find it here,” my wife explained.
Exactly. Looking for food is the natural law in the animal kingdom, not waiting for it to come to the animals.
Animals are not like people at all, and we probably can learn a lot from them about stewardship. But we will learn nothing by presuming they will behave exactly like us given similar circumstances.
Besides, occasionally feeding our feathered friends links us to them in a more mindful way than our more typical invasive behavior will.
Reid Champagne is a writer based in Kirkland.