Ever hear the myth about not throwing rice at weddings because the birds that eat the grains will blow up when the rice expands? That would come as a real surprise to rice farmers who spend a lot of time and effort to keep birds from eating their crop. The other carbohydrate-related story is that white bread is bad for birds. That story requires a bit more explanation, though.
First, let’s presume that the white bread is being fed to wild birds who have lots of food choices. (Feeding caged birds on a diet of bread and water would be a different story.) Wild birds eating bread eat a variety of other foods – seeds and other plant parts, insects, worms, etc. so they get a balanced diet. Second, white bread is actually fairly nutritious, containing wheat flour, barley flour, niacin (vitamin B3), iron, riboflavin, folic acid, sugar, yeast, calcium, and Vitamin C. It actually compares quite well to millet seed in terms of nutritional value. On the other hand, sunflower and thistle seeds are much more nutritious than either bread or millet.
In England, the controversial “Ban the Bread” campaign claims that domestic swans, common in England, should not be fed bread as it is bad for them. The Swan Sanctuary says not so; swans have been fed bread for hundreds of years with no ill effects and in fact has become an important source of energy for them, helping them to survive the winter when vegetation is scarce. On the other side of the world, Radio Perth (Australia) says “feeding bread to birds contributes to higher nutrient levels in the water, which in turn leads to an increase in the soil bacteria that causes avian botulism.”
The Canadian Wildlife Federation says not to feed bread as “Ducks that are regularly fed bread can become malnourished, aggressive towards one another, may lose their foraging instincts and can lose their natural fear of people.” I’m sure you have observed such behavior.
Consider Pymatuning Reservoir, a body of water on the Ohio-Pennsylvania Reservoir. A food truck sits at a parking area on the reservoir’s edge and sells loaves of bread to tourists. The tourists throw the bread into the water, attracting droves of large carp. The fish gather at the surface of the water in such numbers that ducks, awaiting nearby, jump onto the fish and run across their finny backs to get their share of bread. You can actually buy T-shirts that say “Lake Pymatuning: Where the Birds Walk on the Fish.” The state banned the bread trucks for a while but visitors brought their own bread, so the state relented and the bread trucks returned.
So, what’s the answer? Should you feed bread to birds? I think it’s fine to feed white bread on occasion to wild birds. You just don’t want the birds to start depending on it or the bread to add too many nutrients to the soil or water, risking turning your local lake into Lake Pymatuning.