First posted on 02-20-2014
by Kelli Reep
Maybe it’s all the movies we watched growing up or the abundance of YouTube videos of deer, foxes and coyotes feeding from our backyards. Whatever the reason, we have an unrealistic view about feeding wildlife, and it can result in a nuisance and even danger.
“Wild animals like raccoons, deer, foxes and coyotes aren’t pets,” said Becky McPeake, an extension forest resources and wildlife expert for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “They may seem cute and cuddly, but if you feed them regularly, they can become a problem for your property and pets.”
Feeding wild animals will make them lose their natural fear of people, and if you happen to stop feeding them, they will essentially panhandle for food from your neighbors. Black bears, which learn to link people with handouts, become bolder and may hurt someone, which gets them captured and moved or even killed. Feeding more timid wildlife such as songbirds will concentrate them unnaturally, making them more susceptible to disease and predation.
“Raccoons, rats and even squirrels have been known to come through pet doors to feed from pet food dishes,” McPeake said. “These animals can carry diseases that could be transmitted to you and your pets, and they will bite and scratch you, your family or pets while trying to defend themselves.”
Some wildlife biologists believe the best thing to do is to stop feeding wildlife altogether. Studies show songbirds are neither helped nor harmed by our feeding them, as long as feeders are kept clean of spoiled food and washed periodically with diluted bleach. For birds and squirrels, you can set up feeders in your yard so the wildlife can keep an eye on predators. For deer, plant native trees, bushes and flowers where they can graze without tearing up your property. This natural food source is nutritious and maintains a healthy distance from you and the deer. You also can place water features throughout your yard to provide a water source for wildlife neighbors.
“Wild animals are adapted to taking care of themselves, even in the coldest winters. When it comes to feeding wildlife, we can do more harm than good. After feeding them in winter, do you want them coming back and feasting in your lawn, fruit trees and garden? Think it through before feeding wildlife,” says McPeake.
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