Carrie Wilson of the California Outdoors Web site scores a strong point when she passes along wildlife experts’ suggestions not to feed human food to wild animals. But I’ll go her one better: don’t feed any kind of food to wild creatures. Yes, I know I’ll be branded a meanie, but my advice also includes songbirds.
The majority of professional biologists, when asked if it’s okay to put up feeders and buy expensive sunflower and thistle seed to stuff inside them, tell you not to do it. It sounds heartless and uncaring, but if the winged backyard and windowsill visitors get used to being fed on a regular basis, it won’t be long before they’ll totally depend on your generosity and forget how to forage for food themselves. If you still insist that your little feathered friends need your seed and feed, be prepared to follow through and continue it throughout the year.
On a related subject, I can’t recall our Maryland and Virginia state fish and game offices ever issuing warnings that feeding foxes, coyotes, raccoons and oppossums is against the law, but apparently the city of Los Angeles is home to so many of the aforementioned critters that a municipal ordinance was passed to prohibit the feeding of them.
I do know that you should never feed deer. Most states frown on the practice and many states forbid it outright. Virginia considers it baiting, especially when deer hunting season is open; Maryland doesn’t say much about the subject. In deer “feeding” cases that usually includes shelled or whole ears of corn, apples, and mineral blocks.
On the subject of throwing out human food that might include pieces of bread, peanuts, even cookies and pieces of cake for backyard deer, squirrels, wild turkeys and the like, California Outdoors says, “While feeding human food to wildlife makes those people doing so feel good, in the long run it is often to the detriment of the animal recipients. Although many animals will eat stale bread when offered, temporarily satisfying their hunger, in reality, many human foods — especially bread — lack the protein and nutritional components animals need for good health.” Sweet treats, of course, should be added to the list.
It should also be needless to remind “well-meaning” food providers that there’s a real danger in actually allowing wild animals to become familiar with humans – so familiar that they lose their natural fear of humans. Various wildlife office records contain instances when black bears, used to being fed by visitors, attacked people in national or state parks because they wanted more of, say, those potato chips the human held behind his/her back, stupidly speaking to the bear, saying, “No, that’s enough. No more.”
Next thing they knew, the bear ripped into them. Bears don’t understand cute human talk and, worse yet, many have lost their natural fear of us.
Now add lists of homeowners who had squirrels or oppossums clamp down on their hands when they thought the furry critters were practically tame and they could be trusted and finger-fed. Yeah, they were fed fingers all right.
The short and long of it simply is “Don’t do it.” Let wildlife be wild. Let it forage for its own food and if tough winters take a toll, it’s nature’s way of allowing only the strong to survive.
The Women’s Outdoor Wire provides a helpful web site about wildlife-human conflicts. Go to www.keepmewild.org.