Wildlife feeding issues
Wildlife feeding can lead to more harm than good
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Most people know that unprotected garbage, compost, fallen fruit and pet food can attract unwanted wildlife. Rodents may be the least of your worries, if a bear happens upon an unnatural food cache. Unfortunately, however, wildlife often pays for our bad habits. Putting the garbage out the evening before pick-up, using non-wildlife-proof bins, and littering in school yards and roadsides, contribute too often to a habituated animal (and sometimes its offspring) being killed unnecessarily.
Some municipalities have attempted to reduce the death toll by creating bylaws that require the use of wildlife-proof garbage bins and prevent early placement of bins, while others have converted local landfills to transfer stations to reduce wildlife attractants. The number of wild animals killed due to conflicts resulting from unintentional feeding can further be reduced with proactive enforcement and community education.
The intentional feeding of wildlife is 100% preventable.
Habituated wildlife are more susceptible to predators and vehicle collisions, as they lose their fear of people and associated flight response. Feeding wild animals not only affects that individual, but wildlife that have been fed regularly can develop food-seeking aggression and experience social stress within their population. Last but not least, habituated wild animals can become aggressive toward people and pets. This is usually when trappers or conservations officers are brought in to remove these animals, and relocation is not an option in most cases as the habituated animal will just become someone else’s problem. Even before public safety becomes an issue, neighbours who do not appreciate the frequent visits and who may be concerned about wildlife spreading diseases, may legally take matters into their owns hands.
So feeding wildlife is not only a bad idea for the animal, but for you, your pets, your neighbour and your community.
One area where the experts have not come to agreement on is the feeding of migratory birds. Whether you agree or disagree with feeding birds, it is the most widespread and popular form of human-wildlife interaction worldwide. It originated as a humane response to the plight of hungry birds during ‘hard winters’ in the northern hemisphere in the early 20th century. Now a wide-spread hobby, proponents still believe it improves the survival of wintering birds, enhances certain threatened populations, increases general environmental awareness, and enables citizen science – the monitoring of bird populations that would not otherwise be studied.
However, many experts oppose feeding birds. They believe it can be harmful as birds can become nutritionally imbalanced, it can create possible dependency on supplemental food, and increase aggression at feeders. Strong evidence has also been documented to show bird feeders are responsible for spreading disease. In early 2012, a salmonella outbreak in the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria caused surge of bird deaths related to contaminated feeders. Of the 16 Pine Siskens Wild ARC admitted between January and April 2012, all died and salmonella was confirmed in those sent for testing. Most sick birds of course are never taken to wildlife rehabilitation centres as they are simply never found. Further, these experts suggest feeding birds at feeders can create ‘ecological traps’ and enhance populations of introduced or unwanted bird species and mammals like this character:
Although the BC SPCA prefers you to attract birds naturally with native plants, if you are going to feed migratory birds, please:
- ensure feeders are not accessible to other species, use baffles and “proof” feeders
- keep cats indoors and ask neighbours to do so also
- clean feeders regularly with a 10% bleach dilution to prevent disease outbreaks
- feed only seasonally when natural resources are limited
- provide appropriate bird feed for the season and the species, to reduce waste
- place feeders in protected areas, out of the rain, snow and wind
- if feeder is close to a window, place within 3 feet and use UV window decals; but preferably feeders are very far from windows
- no ground feeding, and frequenly clean spilled seed to reduce the likelihood of attracting rodents
- do not use herbicides, fungicides or pesticides in your yard
- if maintaining a hummingbird feeder in winter, you must ensure that it does not freeze, as this is likely the only food source for those birds during the winter - having two feeders that you can alternate makes it easer to prevent having a frozen feeder
- consult with your local bird feeding or nature store to determine the right feed to attract specific bird species
- never feed ducks, geese or swans on local ponds and for those who fish, do not feed gulls, herons or eagles
Don’t feed wildlife when you are on vacation! It may seem like everyone else is doing it: feeding the fish or stingrays while snorkeling or offering begging chipmunks or monkeys a hand-out. But the same nutritional and dependency issues exist for these wild animals and they may become aggressive towards you. Remember you are still in someone else’s backyard where human-wildlife conflicts may occur once you return home. To discourage visitors from feeding wildlife in B.C., we have to behave the same when we are travelling abroad!
Photo credits: Kyung-Won Shin, Donna Newell and Douglas Sage