Why Conservationists Tell Us Not to Feed Wild Animals in the Winter
Depending upon the severity, winter conditions create hardships for the wild animals around us. During harsh winter conditions, our thoughts frequently turn to the plight of those wild animals.
But, they’re probably coping better than we are.
Wildlife professionals will point out that wild animals have, for millennia, adapted to cope with winter's extremes, such as deep snow, cold temperatures, and high winds. It's the same with wildlife everywhere. They also point out that feeding wild animals in winter can have serious consequences, although they take a softer tone regarding wild bird feeding.
Predator And Prey Can Show Up At The Same Time
It should be noted that feeding wild birds can attract many types of wild animals, including turkeys and small mammals like squirrels and mice.
Those are all prey species, and predators that are dangerous to humans, such as bears, foxes, fishers, and coyotes, feed on these small mammals and can be drawn to your yard.
In addition to affecting mobility, deep snow makes feeding difficult for deer because low browse is covered. They can free some of it by pawing, or they can take the easy way out and just come over to your yard and eat your expensive ornamental plantings.
Some Stores Sell Food For Wildlife
Many stores now carry food for wild animals. You can buy 50 pound bags of deer corn, deer pellets, wildlife mixtures that consist of a variety of grains and forage products, and salt and mineral licks.
You might want to reconsider the wisdom of feeding local wild animals. One problem with establishing feeding stations is that it causes wildlife to congregate in abnormally high densities, and that can have unintended consequences.
It puts children and pets at risk, and it also subjects small wild animals to predation and to injury or death from our dogs and cats.
Animals can become aggressive when there are nearby competitors for food. Scuffles not only present the risk of injury or death, but also cause the animals to waste energy reserves.
When animals congregate, there’s always the chance to spread disease and parasites. Also there can be environmental consequences. Vegetation and habitat can be negatively impacted because no territory can support an infinite number of animals.
Do You Feed Wildlife Other Than Birds?
The Dangers Of Civilization To Wildlife
Backyard feeding encourages animals to cross highways and local roads, increasing the danger of deer/vehicle collisions. Nationwide, such collisions take a heavy toll in personal injury, deaths and property damage.
Wild animals seasonally change behaviors, which enables them to cope with harsh conditions. Feeding stations can alter those behaviors, often with harmful results.
Consider, also, that animals can become habituated to humans and the space we occupy. This makes the animals less fearful of us, putting us, our children and our pets at risk.
Some professionals express concern that wild animals can become reliant on humans, while others believe that when humans don't provide for them, the animals will just move on to a more productive territory.
What You Can Do To Help Wild Animals In Your Area
Start by improving the natural habitat on or near your property. Depending upon the species of wild animals that include your neighborhood in their territory, provide appropriate plantings that serve as food or cover for animals. There are varieties of shrubbery that produce berries all year.
Wait until spring to clean up your garden. Even dead leaves, stalks and seed heads provide food and cover. Save pruning and trimming debris to build a brush pile. The local ground-dwelling birds, chipmunks, and rabbits will love you for it. So will the insects, reptiles and amphibians that hibernate for the winter.
Liquid water can be hard to come by in the winter, but you can supply it for wild animals by using heated birdbaths, heated buckets, or electric de-icers or water heaters. De-icers are designed to keep water from freezing while heaters actually warm the water.
Information on wildlife-friendly ways to help wild animals through winter is available from municipal and regional conservation agents, environmental groups, or your county or state environmental protection agencies. Speaking of such organizations, many of them, like The Humane Society of the United States, are not taxpayer funded and therefore dependent upon donations to carry out their missions. Consider writing a check.
The best thing is to just step back and allow the animals’ natural behaviors to play out.
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Living with Wildlife, Winter Wildlife Feeding
- The Humane Society of the United States: Fall Into Winter: Help Backyard Wildlife Prepare for Cold Weather
- Pennsylvania Game Commission: Please Don't Feed The Deer
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: Feeding Wildlife a Wrong Choice
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2015 Bob Bamberg