Most people love wildlife, and the desire to help an animal in need is a common feeling many of us will experience at some point. Sometimes, well-meaning people offer food to wildlife in an attempt to help them – while the intentions behind feeding a wild animal may be virtuous, in reality, it can do more harm than good.
Intentionally feeding wildlife, like tossing bread or crackers to waterfowl at your local pond, for example, may seem harmless to the casual observer. Ducks and geese are quick to accept the handouts, and it’s an easy way for almost anyone to feel more connected to the outdoors. Unfortunately, over time the negative consequences that occur when wildlife are fed by humans can affect both the health and safety of individual animals and the ecosystem as a whole.
Overcrowding – when the number of animals within a certain area is greater than what the ecosystem can adequately support – is often a direct result of humans repeatedly feeding wildlife in the same location. Fierce competition for resources may result in physical injuries, natural behaviors are disrupted, and communicable diseases are more likely to be spread; wildlife that consumes large amounts of “human food” are also at risk for life-long medical issues related to nutritional deficiencies.
Recently, the Center’s outreach and education staff produced a video on the dangers of feeding waterfowl, which highlights these issues and features interviews with park-goers on the subject. Click play below to watch a shortened version of the video, or click here to see the video in its entirety on the Center’s YouTube channel.
Unintentionally feeding wildlife causes harm, as well – pet food left outside on a back porch overnight, unsecured trash bags and trash cans, bird feeders that are repeatedly ransacked, and other forms of food or food waste easily accessible to wildlife can result in the same negative consequences. When wild animals are repeatedly drawn to developed areas like neighborhoods and suburbs, additional concerns for human safety and property damage may arise, too.
In these cases, trapping and relocating nuisance wildlife that has become habituated to people may sound like a logical solution; in truth, it’s rarely effective. Removing an individual animal does not address the reason they were initially drawn to the area (easily accessible and reliable sources of food), and other animals will quickly fill the vacant niche. Relocated wildlife have difficulty finding food, water, shelter, and safety, and rarely survive when introduced to new territories. Relocating animals to new environments can also introduce diseases to the animal, or to the residents where the animal is relocated. Furthermore, In Virginia and many other states, it’s unlawful to trap animals and move them off of your property. For more information on contacting a licensed trapper that holds a Commercial Nuisance Animal Permit, visit this page.
Fortunately, like so many other threats to wildlife that are related to human activity, simple changes to our behaviors and routines are the best solutions to these problems. Here are a few examples of what you can do to help: When it comes to feeding wildlife,
Intentionally feed wildlife, in public spaces or at home. Native species are well-adapted to find nutritionally appropriate sources of food in their natural habitats on their own.
Leave food litter and packaging behind, especially near roadways. Even seemingly harmless or biodegradable food waste places wildlife in harm’s way.
Relocate a wild animal. It’s ineffective, rarely successful, and in most cases unlawful.
Prevent the unintended feeding of wildlife by removing attractants from your property – store trash cans indoors until the morning of pickup, never leave pet food outside, meticulously clean recently-used grills or barbecues that may still smell like food to a wild animal, etc.
Take up alternative hobbies and activities that involve enjoying wildlife from a distance, like photography or nature journaling.
Organize trash pickups in public spaces near your home; healthy ecosystems naturally draw a variety of native species to them without the need for human intervention.
The key to changing human behaviors and attitudes toward protecting wildlife and the environment is education -- spread the word and share these tips with your neighbors, homeowner’s associations, and local communities! Efforts from all of us, no matter how small they may seem, truly make a difference. Thank you for helping!