Buckeyes Are Toxic to (Real) Ducks, Say Ohio State Ag Experts

Picture of alarmed duck

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio buckeyes, experts say, can poison most livestock and wildlife. So what about ducks?

In theory, yes, say scientists with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Buckeye nuts, leaves and sprouts contain toxic compounds called glycosides. Ingestion by most animals causes vomiting, diarrhea, trembling and staggering. And worse. Such as fumbling.

In reality, the scientists say, the only place a buckeye should sicken a duck is on the football field.

Ohio State’s gridiron Buckeyes take on the University of Oregon’s featherless Ducks in the college football national championship game Jan. 12.

In a backyard or on a small farm, “The leaves would likely be out of reach unless you’re keeping ducks in a buckeye nursery,” said John Anderson, research associate and 4-H poultry specialist in the college’s Department of Animal Sciences.

On a big farm, too, the ducks can’t touch the buckeyes.

“Keep in mind that commercial ducks are raised indoors like chickens these days,” said Mo Saif, Ohio State professor emeritus, former head of the college’s Food Animal Health Research Program and a previous editor of the reference book Diseases of Poultry. “So we’re probably talking mostly about wild ducks or a few backyard domestic ducks. But in my experience, toxicity issues in these ducks are usually related to botulism.”

A closeup of Ohio buckeye nuts. Inside are toxic compounds called glycosides, which bolster the buckeye’s defense. (Photo by H. Zell licensed under CC BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

A duck that somehow tracks down a buckeye ends up overmatched anyway.

“The buckeye’s nuts are just too large to be ingested by anything but the biggest waterfowl, such as geese and swans,” said Bob Gates, who tackles ducks and more as a wildlife researcher in the college’s School of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Wood ducks are the only waterfowl I know of that might encounter buckeye nuts,” he said. “But they’re just too small to eat the nuts, which I think would be too hard to grind in their gizzards anyway.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s PLANTS database carries a red-letter warning: “Ohio buckeye is highly toxic when taken internally.”

Ohio State wildlife researcher Bob Gates says the physical skills of a duck, such as this gaudily green-tinged wood duck, can’t beat the size and strength of a buckeye. (Photo: iStock.)

A University of Illinois website says Ohio buckeyes have sickened and killed cattle, sheep and pigs. “Especially poisonous,” the site says, “are the young sprouts and the seeds.”

Gates says Ducks but not ducks should beware.

“The only place I know of where waterfowl might encounter buckeyes is on a football field in Arlington, Texas, where I predict that a flock of lost ducks will land in utter exhaustion on Jan. 12,” he said. “Though hungry, these stray ducks from Oregon will have bitten off more than they can chew.

“Buckeyes are just too big and tough for ducks from Oregon, or anywhere else for that matter, to take on without choking while millions watch the gruesome outcome.”

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CFAES News Team
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John Anderson

Mo Saif

Bob Gates