How A Well-Meaning Effort To Stop Feeding Wildlife Is Causing The Queen’s Swans To Starve

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Animal lovers are increasingly conscious about what they feed their pets. Now we know dogs shouldn’t eat bread, fruit, booze or chocolate, while even cats have trouble digesting milk, despite the widely held misconception that they love –and thrive –on dairy. In England, residents have become similarly wary of feeding the thousands of swans cruising the country’s extensive river and canal network, so much so that they’ve broken with a centuries-old tradition of feeding bread to river fowl upon the advice of animal conservationists earlier this year.

Unfortunately, even the best intentions can bear unfortunate consequences, and just a year after efforts to “ban the bread” took effect, many of England’s signature water fowl are already starving. According to Swan Support, a swan-rehabilitation and welfare group that recently surveyed 24 swans living in the Thames river valley, approximately 75 percent of the animals showed clear signs of starvation. One of these severely emaciated, and deceased, creatures was only half of his normal body weight!

Nor is Swan Support the first group to sound the alarm about depriving these fowl of an important food source. Earlier this November, The Queen’s chief “Swan Marker,” David Barker, also sounded the alarm about misguided swan welfare campaigns that were actually depriving the animals of an important food source. Sure, bread probably isn’t the healthiest food for birds, but its also not the worst.

Most importantly, urban fowl have long counted on humans for spare bread crusts to supplement their diet, and depriving them of this important food source at this point has already wrought devastating consequence. In addition to noting a large percentage of severely underweight animals, Barker also pointed to the additional danger posed by hungry birds leaving the waterways to scrounge for food near traffic.

Swan Support also hopes to counter the public misinformation by helping clarify which human foods are safe for swans to eat. Brown bread is fine in small doses, the group told the BBC, as is poultry corn, which can be purchased online from Amazon.com UK.

Barker, the Queen’s Swan counter, couldn’t agree more. “Swans have been fed bread for many hundreds of years without causing any ill effects,” he told local papers. “While bread may not be the best dietary option for swans compared to their natural food such as river weed, it has become a very important source of energy for them, supplementing their natural diet and helping them to survive the cold winter months when vegetation is very scarce.”

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J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.
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