Feeding backyard wildlife is a worldwide phenomenon – people feed squirrels in backyards in Canada, hedgehogs in England, raccoons in the USA, and possums in Australia.
Whether or not people should feed wildlife in their backyards is a controversial topic and a very complex one.
Here are my thoughts on both the for and against sides of the argument for feeding backyard wildlife visitors. I have based this on my own opinions, experiences, and from reading about the subject on the internet.
Not impressed with an empty food dish!
A female bandicoot with young in her pouch. 16 Nov 2012
So why do people feed wild animals in their backyard?
A common reason is that feeding wild animals makes a person feel good. People feel they are helping the animals survive by providing extra food. People also feel guilty for the urbanisation of the natural habitat and feel they are giving something back to the animals by feeding them.
Feeding wild animals in the backyard can also break down barriers of isolation for those people who may be housebound and lacking social contact. It makes these people feel needed and useful and they can form bonds with the animals.
Feeding wildlife in your backyard is an enjoyable experience as it makes a person feel more connected to nature and can also provide the opportunity for close interaction with wildlife.
Other reasons for feeding wildlife in backyards include for entertainment purposes, filming and photography opportunities, and education as it allows the observation of the behaviour of wild animals up close and people can learn to identify the different birds and animals.
So why are some people so against feeding wildlife in backyards?
It seems that the main points of contention that cause passionate debate are –
- feeding wildlife causes them to lose their fear of people; and
- feeding wildlife causes them to become dependent on humans
It is also thought that feeding backyard wildlife could bring about changes in the eco system because the dominant species would restrict the feeding and territory of wildlife that are timid.
And it is also reasoned that visiting wildlife leave behind a mess that could bring vermin or spread disease if leftover feed isn’t disposed of and if the feeding stations are not properly cleaned.
People are also concerned about birds and animals becoming aggressive towards humans over food. (Remember those annoying seagulls at the beach demanding your hot chips?)
Common sense approach
As far as I am aware, Australia has no laws regulating the feeding of backyard wildlife (feeding wild animals in national parks, forests, parklands, and public spaces or for tourism purposes may be a different story). I don’t know if it’s the same across other countries.
If you want to feed visiting wildlife in your backyard, use your common sense and consider the cases for and against it. Be responsible in your actions and be aware of any consequences of what you do.
If you love animals and want to have them visit you and maybe even befriend them and hand feed them, the last thing you would want to do is something that would be detrimental to them or put them in any danger.
The most important thing to remember is that the well being of the animal is paramount.
Here are my Dos and Don’ts of feeding backyard wildlife
• DO NOT overfeed
• DO NOT feed wildlife junk food or processed food that is for human consumption (this includes BREAD!)
• DO NOT put food, water or shelter for wildlife near pet areas or close to neighbours
• DO NOT feed wildlife if you are not prepared to clean up after them
• DO NOT feed wildlife if you do not want your garden or yard scratched and dug up; or to be woken at the crack of dawn by hungry mouths; or woken during the night by rampaging possums on your roof
• DO check your local council and state government for any restrictions or laws regulating the feeding of wildlife in backyards
• DO research your wildlife visitors so you know who you are dealing with (do a Google search or refer to your local wildlife care groups)
• DO plant native shrubs and trees for natural sources of food and shelter that will attract local wildlife (your local garden nursery will be happy to help you with this)
• DO leave out a fresh water source (bird bath, pond, water dish)
• DO consider your neighbours
• DO clean feeders and water dishes thoroughly and regularly to help avoid any bacterial contamination and possible spread of disease
• DO feed wildlife proper supplemental food eg Womberoo brand (enquire with your local wildlife care group or vet)
• DO feed wildlife intermittently
Perhaps in the future there should be definitive research into this common pastime that nearly half the country’s (and maybe the world’s) population participates in to some extent. Maybe then we will have clear answers and guidelines to follow or even laws to be enforced which will benefit not just the wildlife but the people as well.
As for me, well, yes, I do feed my backyard wildlife visitors, as you can see by my videos and photos included in this post, but I do not feed all of them and not all the time. I have found that the possums I feed can still be seen eating the native flowers and leaves in the trees at night, and the birds I feed can still be seen foraging for food and even with their caught prey (in the case of the meat eaters). I’m sure the birds and animals will survive fine without me feeding them, but I do it anyway. Why? Because it feels good and I like to make that connection with nature.
If you decide to feed your backyard wildlife visitors, I hope this post has given you some food for thought and some tips on how to feed wild animals in your backyard safely and responsibly.