Don't feed wildlife: It can do more harm than good
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Don’t feed wildlife: It can do more harm than good

July 26, 2021

Feeding wildlife may seem like an enjoyable way to connect with nature, but it can often lead to serious problems for species like squirrels, raccoons, deer and bears.

Wild animals who get used to a hand-out will often take the easy route despite ample natural foods being available – even in urban areas.

Although it might seem harmless and cute to feed a squirrel on a park bench or ducks at the local pond, these activities can lead to increased habituation.

Listen to BC SPCA chief scientific officer, Dr. Sara Dubois, on the unseen impacts of wildlife feeding on an episode of Defender Radio by The Fur-Bearers:

Photo Credit: Christine Babic

Step away from the squirrel

Fed wildlife can become dependent on unreliable food sources and suffer nutritionally when given inappropriate foods.

Habituated wild animals are also more susceptible to predators and vehicle collisions, as they lose their fear of people and the associated flight response.

In other cases, wild animals who have been fed regularly can develop food-seeking aggression and can become hostile towards people and pets.

Photo Credit: Angel Geist

Clean up careless habits

Human carelessness can also lead to urban wildlife becoming habituated.

You can help with simple actions like putting your garbage out the same morning as pick-up, using wildlife-proof bins, keeping pet food inside, picking up fallen fruit on the ground, and not littering. Unfortunately, not doing these simple things can lead to situations where wild animals – and their offspring – are killed unnecessarily.

If you feed birds, do so with care

One area where the experts disagree is on 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.

The BC SPCA prefers you to attract birds naturally with native plants, because bird feeders are a frequent cause of disease – from conjunctivitis and salmonella, to as serious as highly pathogenic avian influenza.

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 your neighbours to do so as well;
  • Clean feeders regularly to prevent disease outbreaks;
  • Feed only seasonally when natural resources are limited;
  • Consult your local bird feed or nature store to determine the right feed for the season and the species;
  • Place feeders in protected areas, out of the rain, snow and wind;
  • Place feeders as far away from windows as possible. If it must be near a window, place it less than one metre away and use UV window decals to prevent injury;
  • Don’t ground feed, and clean spilled seeds frequently to avoid attracting rodents;
  • Do not use herbicides, fungicides or pesticides in your yard;
  • If maintaining a hummingbird feeder in winter, ensure that it does not freeze, as it is likely the only food source for the birds who are using it; and
  • Never feed ducks, geese, swans, gulls, herons or eagles.

Read the BC SPCA’s position on wildlife feeding.

Photo Credit: Neil Merchant

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