The Joy and Trouble of Feeding Wildlife
February 01, 2010
I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while
I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more
distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any
epaulet I could have worn. - Henry David Thoreau
The beauty of nature is awe-inspiring and magical. It is no
wonder that we try to get as close to it as possible. While feeding
wild animals can be rewarding, there are precautions you should
take in order to ensure your safety as well as that of the animals
you are feeding.
"You, of course, don't ever want to feed any kind of a dangerous
animal like a bear or a wild hog," warns Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon,
clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M University
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "But some
animals such as birds and squirrels are perfectly acceptable to
feed and can be a great joy to watch."
It's important to note that while feeding some animals is
acceptable it should always be from at a distance.
"Never feed wild animals out of your hand. Any animal can
mistake your hand for food and you don't want to be accidentally
bitten," advises Blue-McLendon. "You also don't want an animal to
think food is at the end of your fingers because they might think
you have food when you don't or that your hand is part of the
Because of these potential dangers it's best to feed animals out
of feeders or to throw it down as you would to birds in ponds.
There are many specialized feeders such as bird feeders and corn
cob stations that can feed the majority of birds and squirrels.
"If you are going to feed any animal it is best that you give
them food that is formulated for them or stick with fruits and
vegetables," states Blue-McLendon. "Most feed stores carry special
food for ducks, birds and other wild animals."
If you are feeding animals such as peacocks and ducks by
throwing food toward them there is a possibility that they may
become aggressive if they know you have food.
"If you encounter an aggressive animal you should first try
noise-aversion to chase them off. If they don't respond then just
put the food down and walk away," advises Blue-McLendon.
While feeding wild animals from feeders is the best way to
protect your body, if you are feeding animals outside your home
they can still damage your house and landscape.
"You want to be careful when attracting any animals to your
house," warns Blue-McLendon. "Squirrels can chew on houses and deer
have been known to get into landscaping and eat valuable plants
such as roses and daylilies."
Once these animals come into urban settings and destroy property
they are known as nuisance wildlife and can cause hundreds of
dollars of damage. Because this is a problem in many areas there
are a variety of companies that deal with the removal of these
animals. However, if you do have a problem the best way to get rid
of the animals is to simply remove the food source.
"I would advise that if you live in the city you only feed
birds. Squirrels can still be a problem around bird feeders, but
they should not draw other wildlife," explains Blue-McLendon. "It
really depends upon a person's situation though, because if you
live in the country and you want to attract things like deer you
can find landscaping and plants that are deer-resistant."
Another thing to consider when feeding wild animals is that some
animals, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and opossums, can carry
rabies and other zoonotic diseases that can be spread to domestic
"Some zoonotic diseases can cause severe neurological disease
for other animals so it's important to keep wild animals away from
your pets," states Blue-McLendon. "They don't even have to bite
your pet to infect them. For example, one intestinal parasite that
raccoons carry is a cause of neurological problems in animals."
Watching squirrels climb up trees and beautiful birds flying
around your home can be an entertaining and peaceful experience. By
making sure that you are protecting yourself, your property and the
animals you can make sure that the experience continues to be a
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