The Tufts Wildlife Clinic encourages the public to take an interest in and appreciate wildlife. However, feeding wildlife can result in injury and disease for the animal. While offering food to wildlife may seem like a kind action, please proceed with caution for the following reasons:
- “People” food isn’t good for animals. Human foods aren’t nutritious enough for animals and may cause serious health problems. A deformity called “angel wing” is commonly found in ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl who are fed white bread, popcorn, crackers, or other people food. Please identify areas where feeding waterfowl is supported and only offer appropriate foods. Look for waterfowl feed or duck pellets at feed stores. Other healthy foods include seedless grapes cut in half, shredded kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce and grains, including wheat, barley and oats. Make sure anything you feed is bite-sized to avoid choking hazards. If you think something is too old to eat yourself, such as moldy bread, it’s too old to feed to the birds.
- It makes wild animals lose their natural fear of people. Feeding can make large, potentially dangerous animals become too comfortable in residential or recreational areas. Once animals learn they can panhandle for food, they can become a nuisance — or even worse, a safety risk.
- Feeding wildlife from or near vehicles is dangerous to animals, people, and property. Animals can be hit by moving vehicles or might try to enter vehicles in search of food. Watch a problem that Yosemite National Park had with food habituated bears.
- Wild animals who depend on people for food can cause injuries or spread disease. When wild animals gather for food handouts, it can cause crowding and competition. These unnatural conditions increase the chances of fighting and injury among animals. It can also increase the spread of diseases, some of which may be transmitted to pets and humans.
- Feeding attracts large concentrations of animals to areas that can’t naturally support such numbers. As an example, when left on their own, ducks and geese will occupy areas that provide sufficient natural food. As they deplete food in one location, they fly to new feeding areas, often miles away.
- Artificial feeding encourages unnaturally large groups of animals to gather in one place where the competition for food can cause unnecessary stress. This may weaken the birds and make them more susceptible to disease. Also, birds crowded into these areas are defecating in the same location where they’re feeding, again spreading disease.
- Feeding may encourage species of wildlife not normally found in the area to concentrate. This can lead to an increased incidence of hybridization, which can eventually weaken the gene pool in certain species.
- Deposits of fecal matter can affect water quality and compromise human health. Children can also come into contact with droppings left on the surrounding landscape.
- Wildlife are well suited to survive New England winters. As an example, bird feathers provide air pockets that stabilize body temperature and control heat loss. When birds fluff their feathers, they are merely increasing the air space and insulation.
Are you feeding an animal without even knowing it? Night critters such as raccoons, coyotes, and skunks, generally avoid humans, even when their home borders urban or suburban residences. However, the presence of pet food or garbage can lure animals and create the impression that backyards are feeding areas. Additionally, trash cans, bird feeders, pet food left outdoors, and, occasionally, a grill emitting the sweet smell of steak, chicken or fish can entice bears. If it finds food and the food continues to be available, the bear will frequent the area time and time again. Sadly, once bears become acclimated and a threat to humans, they are often destroyed. In communities in central and western Massachusetts inhabited by black bears, all bird feeders and suet feeders should be removed from yards between April 1 – November 1, when black bears are active.
When properly cared for, birdfeeders can be a great way to observe and learn about the many different types of birds found in our backyard. Suggestions on bird feeder placement and appropriate foods to offer to keep birds healthy can be found on the Birdfeeders and Wildlife page.