Many people enjoy feeding wildlife because it allows them to have close contact with the animals, or because they believe they are helping the animals survive. While seeing wild animals up close can be enjoyable, providing wild animals with a steady, human-supplied food source nearly always leads to problems for both the animals and humans.
There are many good reasons not to feed wildlife including:
- When young wild animals are taught to depend on a human-provided food source, they may not fully develop essential foraging skills. Animals who are raised relying on humans for food may struggle to survive in the absence of that artificial food source when they disperse from their parents' territory.
- Wild animals who are used to being fed by humans commonly lose their fear of people. Animals who are unafraid of people will approach them for food, and are sometimes mistaken as rabid, aggressive or mean, then killed for that behavior. They also become easy targets for kids with BB guns and others who mean them harm. An instinctive wariness of people is important to a wild animal's survival.
- The food humans usually feed to wild animals is not nutritionally complete, and it can cause serious health problems for the animals, especially when they are young and still developing. Most wild animals are opportunistic and will concentrate on the easiest food source available. When a constant human-provided food source is available, animals who would normally have a varied diet may switch to eating mainly this constantly available food. Just like humans, most wild animals need a variety of foods in their diet, and if they fill up on "junk" food, they will not get the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Because most people will feed animals food that they have in their house - people food - which bears no resemblance to what the animals eat in the wild, it really is junk food to the animals.
- A constant, human-provided food source may attract many more wild animals to the area than would normally be found there. Who doesn't like a free meal? When food is readily available, animals will gather in abnormally large numbers. This means that if one animal in the group has an illness or disease, it can spread throughout the group. Many wild animals do not interact with others of their own species except during mating season and when raising their young. This is one way to limit diseases among a wild population. By gathering these animals together in unnatural groups, these diseases can spread much more quickly and can destroy a large number of animals.
- Reproduction rates may also be affected when an artificial food source is readily available. In the wild, the number of animals being born is often directly related to the amount of natural food available. The number of animals surviving will also depend on how much food is available. This is nature's way of keeping a balance. When an unnatural food supply becomes available, animals may produce more young and soon there may be more animals living in the area than what the natural food sources can support.
- We commonly receive phone calls at the PAWS Wildlife Center from people whose neighbors have been feeding wild animals. Often, the wild animals have become an incredible nuisance and the caller wants to kill or remove them. Many people do not think about the neighborhood impact when they start feeding wildlife. Wild animals do not usually discriminate between one person and another, and will often start pestering neighbors. The animals may also cause damage to homes and property because they expect to be fed and have lost their fear of people.
The best thing you can do to care for the wild animals on your property is to give them habitat, not handouts. Naturescaping is a great way to provide the animals with natural sources of food and shelter that will not put them in danger the way a human-provided food source will. You will still be able to enjoy wildlife on your property, but at a safe distance for both you and the animals.
If you are looking for a positive way to get closer to wild animals, consider volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center, such as PAWS, where hundreds of injured and orphaned animals are in need of a little human help.