SciSun: Too Much of a Good Thing   Leave a comment

Everyone enjoys seeing wildlife in our yards and neighborhoods. Colorful birds, cute little bunnies, playful squirrels, ill-behaved raccoons, prowling bobcats, hungry bears…..on second thought, this sounds like it’s quickly getting out of control. And by feeding wildlife throughout the year, our ‘good deeds’ could actually result in attracting undesirable or even dangerous animals, and the food itself could be harmful to the wildlife we intended to help.

Most of us only want the best for wildlife. And when we see what looks like animals without food or water – particularly during times we consider particularly difficult like harsh drought and freezing winter – we want to ‘help’ by providing food, usually seeds and grain, for the animals to eat. What’s the harm in throwing out a few handfuls of corn, or providing a dish of vegetables? A a lot of harm, actually. While these actions might seem to help a few animals (and there’s no arguing it’s fun and fulfilling to watch animals eat food we’ve provided), feeding ‘a few‘ animals soon becomes ‘a lot‘ of animals, and the more individuals that artificially gather together create opportunity for animals to fight, territories to be disputed and disease to spread. Feeding ‘harmless’ animals like deer will soon attract predators such as coyotes and mountain lion which will be just as happy eating your pets food – or your pet – if they can’t catch a deer. And most any food is attractive to bears, who, if there are any in the region (bears in the ‘hood!), will seek out the smallest morsel, or even things they think might be food like scented candles and empty food packages – and the bears won’t be stopped by inconveniences like locked doors or metal fences.

Yes, it’s true that wildlife do suffer and some die when they don’t have enough natural food sources; but they can also die if artificial food we provide isn’t what their bodies have adapted to digest. In the winter deer, elk and other ruminants – animals that hold food in a separate area of their digestive system over a long period of time, so the food has an extended time to digest – have actually evolved to survive the winter by eating tree bark, branches, dry grass, and other plant materials that seem inedible. If these animals are suddenly provided with higher-quality food like corn, grains and vegetables (or dog food someone’s left outside), the food could be such a shock to the animals system it could die, and there have been many reports of deer suffering and dying because they came across corn that someone set out for their ‘benefit’.

Bushy the squirrel thought he'd look extra cute and get a lot of treats by posing exactly like the picture.  But in a sad comment on our educational system, Bushy NEVER LEARNED HOW TO READ!

Bushy the squirrel thought he’d look extra cute and get a lot of treats by posing exactly like the picture. But in a sad comment on our educational system, Bushy NEVER LEARNED HOW TO READ!

To really help wildlife during tough times when it looks like they might not have enough to eat, the best things we can do is to plant and protect natural environments that provide shelter, grassy meadows, sources of food like plants with berries, and by keeping streams and ponds clean and free of debris. Through thousands of years wildlife has learned to survive in all but the most extraordinarily difficult times and while some animals, usually the old and weak die every year, overall it’s necessary to keep the entire system in balance.

But what about those birds we started out with? Well, it seems birds are literally of a different feather when it comes to feeding and providing water. There is absolutely no evidence that attracting birds causes them any harm, and in fact might encourage them to migrate and flock and do other birdy-things as they move from one feeder to another. Also there’s no indication birds will remain in an area when maybe it’s time for them to have moved on, just because of artificial food and water sources. It seems that birds will be just fine with, or without humans. And that probably says more about our need to be around wildlife, than the animals need to be around us.

http://www.nps.gov/grca/naturescience/wildlife_alert.htm

http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Newsroom/News_2004/News_2004_Q4/Donot_Feed_Deer_121704.htm

^^^

Michonne Says: Everybody knows not to eat people food. Who knows where that food’s been? And sometimes people try to trick you by dropping colorful bits that look like flowers, but they’re not flowers. Or leaving out fluffy white bits that sometimes are good to eat but other times are smoky white sticks that are no good for anyone. Just stay away.

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