Here's why experts advise against feeding wildlife

Here's what happens when you feed wildlife on a regular basis.

You've probably visited public trails or parks, and you've probably seen the signs:

Don't feed the wildlife.

But in urban areas, bird feeders are a common staple in many backyards.

What's the impact of that?

Barb McKean of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ont., says it while it may seem harmless, it can cause a ripple effect that upsets a community's natural ecology.

"The birds have what they need here," she says, gesturing to one of the Botanical Gardens' wooded areas.

"They can find all the different insects and seeds they need to survive through the year, but people want to see them closer up. It's not damaging directly, but a lot of the seed brought here and left around is really not appropriate for birds."

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Feeding a bird a small amount of sunflower seed isn't an issue. The problem arises when people aren't mindful and overfeed.


Human foods like corn and peanuts won't be eaten by the birds and can attract a larger number of predators than an area is used to.

That can be a big problem.

"Our turtle population is just plummeting," McKean says, "and part of that is there are too many raccoons and skunks and they find turtle nests and dig them up and eat them so they have a huge impact on turtles and ground-nesting birds."

And overfeeding wildlife can change their behaviour and make them bolder.

Nathalie Karvonen, executive director with the Toronto Wildlife Centre agrees.

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"A berry bush, it's not going to associate that with you, but if you offer a wild animal a hotdog bun and say, 'here little guy,' you're training it," she says.

"Mammals can nip, and they spread diseases, so it's definitely not a good idea to feed mammals, put down some seed, let them come take it, but don't offer it from your hand."


In short: Anything you offer to a wild animal will upset the natural order -- so if you want to feed animals, consider working with nature and planting some of their naturally-occurring foods, like berries.

Experts like Karvonen recommend planting native things only.

Do your research and find out what animals normally eat in the wild, and what types of plants are healthy and appropriate for them.

"Create a habitat," she suggests.

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"Plant your yard densely, including native plants."

Thumbnail image source: Getty Images