COLUMN: Feeding wildlife can cause problems

Feeding wildlife may seem like an enjoyable way to connect with nature, but it can often lead to serious problems

  • May. 26, 2013 3:00 p.m.

Pawprints by Lorie Chortyk

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.

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.

Human carelessness can also lead to urban wildlife becoming habituated. Putting garbage out the evening before pick-up, using non-wildlife-proof bins, keeping pet food outside, leaving fallen fruit on the ground and littering can lead to situations where wild animals – and their offspring – are killed unnecessarily.

One area where the experts disagree is on the feeding of migratory birds. Whether you agree with feeding birds, it is the most widespread and popular form of human-wildlife interaction worldwide.

Although the BC SPCA prefers you to attract birds naturally with native plants, if you are going to feed migratory birds:

• 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 with a 10 per cent bleach dilution 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 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.

• 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.

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Lorie Chortyk is the general manager of community relations for the BC SPCA.