Wildlife: To Feed or Not To Feed?

Sarah Gorton

There are lots of critters that will take food if you put it out, including deer, squirrels, ducks and more. Before you decide to feed them, consider what it will be like to have them around long-term.

One of the biggest controversies in wildlife ethics is whether or not to feed wildlife. Almost everyone loves wildlife, but not everyone wants them hanging around their yard.

There are lots of critters that will take food if you put it out: deer, birds, hummingbirds, squirrels, ducks, geese, raccoons and more. While some of these animals are welcomed, others can cause problems.

Many people have bird feeders, which provide over-wintering birds a source of food when habitat and natural food sources are lacking. The problem occurs when other unwanted animals and birds arrive — squirrels, doves, cowbirds and even raccoons. And if improperly cared for, bird feeders can become a breeding ground for house finch eye disease. Hummingbird feeders can also grow mold and make hummers sick.

It’s not uncommon for people who live in suburban or more “naturalistic” parts of town to feed their deer. Even those living in urban areas feed the deer around them to make sure they’re happy and healthy even in the midst of winter. However, doing so can be detrimental. The common go-to feed is corn, which is severely lacking in nutrients and can contribute to chronic wasting disease, a lethal disease that deer contract from one another. Second, feeding deer can cause a local population to skyrocket beyond what the environment can handle. That can result in deer deaths as the environment tries to adjust to the sudden influx.

None of this is to say you can’t feed wildlife. But before you do, seriously consider what it will be like to have wildlife around long-term. Deer are great until they mow down your petunias. Birds at a feeder are cute until your car is covered in poop. Raccoons are curious to watch from afar, but not so much when they set up camp under your house.

Feeding wildlife regularly trains them to be comfortable around humans, lowering their natural safety responses. Birds and deer are more likely to be hit by cars and grow aggressive towards people when they’re regularly fed.

If you decide you want to feed wildlife, be mindful of what, how and where you do it. Do not feed wildlife human food. The best option is to grow native plants that the species you want to feed would eat in the wild. This will help ensure you don’t train unwanted wildlife to become aggressive towards you or your feeding space.

And if you do want a birdfeeder, get one that feeds only birds and keeps other animals (squirrels) out. Clean them regularly to prevent disease spread. Always keep your distance and be respectful of wildlife. These steps will allow you and your beloved wild friends to live in harmony.

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