The other day I received this comment on my duck food post, and it affected me greatly:
‘Except in the case of extreme environmental disruptions, don’t feed wild animals.
They don’t need the food. Stop feeding the ducks and other water birds, and watch them up close as they feed on insects and grasses on the margin of a pond, lagoon, canal, etc.’
At first, I felt terribly guilty because the person writing the comment is, in my opinion, in the right. I do believe the best solution for wildlife is not to feed them at all and to admire them in their natural environment.
But then I thought about it some more.
Can we expect people to never feed wildlife?
Should I be preaching the don’t feed wildlife under any circumstances message?
Is feeding wildlife really that bad?
What kind of life would it be if our children weren’t allowed to interact with and feed wild animals?
I started to think of the arguments for and against feeding wildlife.
Arguments for not feeding wildlife
There are plenty of reasons that support the’ don’t feed wildlife’ argument. Here are a few points:
Is feeding wildlife that bad?
If not fed the right way, you could be causing more harm than good.
Examples include overfeeding animals to the point where they forget to forage naturally or feeding food that isn’t good for them and doesn’t give them the necessary vitamins and minerals they require in their diet.
Sometimes feeding animals can cause negative interactions with humans. Think of the dingo and even kangaroo attacks that have occurred from wild animals expecting food off of us.
But then I don’t get to interact with wildlife?
There are ways to interact with wildlife without using food.
Create a garden full of natural foods for wildlife so as to encourage them into your yard and watch them forage naturally.
Spend time searching for or watching wildlife in your backyard or community. You can visit your local zoo, which allows you to connect with animals that have been conditioned to be fed and touched by people.
Arguments for feeding wildlife:
Can we expect people to never feed wildlife?
Many people who are passionate about saving wildlife are just as guilty for having fed ducks and other wild animals when they were young. They may still do it.
It is this interaction, and the connection they build with the animal, that drives their passion and encourages them to act for wildlife.
To preach or not to preach
Preaching to people may not stop them from feeding wild animals. We can however educate them about the best way to feed and interact with wildlife (see below for examples).
Connecting children and nature
There is a school of thought that believes it is vital, both to the well-being of our children and to raising the conservationists of the future, that children interact with nature. For more information check out The Nature Principle by Richard Louv.
Feeding wildlife is up to you
As you can see, I don’t have a definitive answer. There are plenty of reasons both for and against feeding wildlife and I think both have worthy arguments.
We all want to do what’s best for wildlife. As parents, teachers and environmental educators, it is up to you to make your own decisions on this topic.
If you decide that you don’t need to feed wildlife to get that connection with them, that’s great. But if you decide feeding wildlife is okay you should:
- Ensure you and your children are going to be safe while feeding the wild animal
- Ask yourself if this could cause a problem for the animal or for the safety of your family in future
- Feed them food that would be similar to their natural diet
- Ensure you only feed them a small amount on an irregular basis so they still retain the skills to forage
In regards to the duck food, in my opinion, the benefits of taking a child to feed a small amount of this relatively healthy recipe on an occasional basis are more beneficial to the child and to the future of conservation than it is detrimental to the ducks in question.
Mother Natured aims to give parents a list of activities to encourage them to share nature with their children. I decided I couldn’t tell people to not feed the ducks, but I knew I could provide a better option than bread, so I posted it.
So, what do you think? Should I preach the do not feed wildlife message, or should I be leaving it up to you guys to make your (educated) decision?
Green Mama says
Wow- interesting dilemma. We have lots of wetlands behind our house with a transient duck population. I never have left over bread as I stick it in the blender for breadcrumbs, but have made up a batch of your duckfood (last summer) and the cherubs loved the activity. My thoughts? Standing by the pond watching the cherubs hurl chunks of your duck food offers so many opportunities for incidental teaching/learning- right from the kitchen (measuring, mixing etc) as well as at the habitat area (why we are feeding the ducks these these and not using bread like perhaps some of our neighbours), and of course leads to a range of discussions. I think its fantastic you provide info and options because the cherubs found it pretty boring watching the ducks foraging, particularly when they weren’t moving!
[email protected] says
What an insightful discussion on the pros and cons of feeding wildlife. I agree that it’s best not to feed wildlife, but I have to admit we do feed the ducks and have left bird food out in our yard. I am glad I found out about your safer recipe for duck food and will use that now instead of bread.
Oh Penny, hope the dirty nappies are not getting in the way of your creativity. Thanks for your lovely comment on my sugarbird blog. This is a wonderful insightful read.
Susan Stephenson says
I think you’ve presented both sides clearly and fairly here Penny. To me, you’ve made a balanced decision, or do I only think that way because that’s my decision too??? I truly do believe we need to encourage kids to care for our environment, and we need to explain about “balance” to them too. I’ve been told an endless diet of white bread can cause beak deformities in some birds, so I think your duck food recipe is a way to avoid this, but still allow kids to form a bond with birds.
PS Has anyone done a study on the effects of chips on a seagull’s diet? Or why the sacred ibis are thriving because of tips?
I’ve often felt conflicted on this too…
We’ve often pondered if we should feed the parrots that we have here. On one hand I know my kids would learn so much about seeing them close up, and considering the cockies are thought of mostly as a pest around here I think the positive interaction would be beneficial for all. And part of me thinks that using a bird feeder on our verandah is not that different to letting them steal the seeds from the sunflowers we plant… but perhaps it would be better to hang up a sunflower on the verandah rather than just a bowl of seeds…
Regardless of what side you fall on this debate I think that talking about it, and really thinking about it and making an informed decision has to be a good thing for all. Thanks for bringing this up and educating us all.
Penny Whitehouse says
Kate thanks so much for your comment. You didn’t have to do that. I agree though. It’s a really a conflicting issue. I think hanging a sunflower up is good idea. Just not too many though. Sunflower seeds are like lollies for cockatoos and if they have to much they can get fatty liver disease but in moderation is fine. I could image your kids just loving watching them with delight!
Oh I had no idea about sunflower seeds and cockatooes! We usually grow loads and often I am too slack to cover them before the parrots steal all the seeds, but I will make an effort to get in first this year!
I totally agree with your opinion on this. I think to encourage kids to appreciate animals and be more inclined to take better care of the world when they grow up they should be allowed to enjoy feeding them and interacting with them sometimes. The smiles you get from little kids when they are feeding animals kind of makes sure that parents are going to keep letting them do that, so the healthy food option is a fantastic idea. We are so guilty of feeding the park ducks and pigeons our sandwich crusts!
sarah whitehouse says
I think generally people who try feeding wildlife are doing so for the desire to be near and involved with wildlife. Unfortunately due to lack of understanding about diet and behaviours of animals, mistakes can be made. As with many things the power of education can be worth way more than simply saying “dont feed wildlife ever”. I agree with your conditional points- make sure its safe for the humans and animals involved, appropriate diet, and not turned into an alternative food source for the animal. We supplimentary feed wildlife and the intention is to provide that additional support for breeding birds, to encourage their continued visitations to our yard, and an opportunity to interact and ensure they are coping in the wild. This article certainly encourages you to think “why am i feeding/not feeding wildlife, and am i confident i am doing this for/in the best interests of the animals involved”. Thanks Pen.
Penny Whitehouse says
You’re exactly right Sarah. It makes the person feeding the wildlife feel good when they do it. I just wish for people to do exactly that, consider those important points before feeding wildlife. Surely you feel even better about feeding wildlife if you’re doing it the way that’s best for the animal.
You’ve always done what’s best for wildlife Sarah, you think before you act and the fact that you came over to read this shows me how much! xx
Hi first of all thanks for your unbiased thoughts, i have also had this dilemma. I grew up feeding our pet ducks food scraps from the kitchen including bread and ‘packet mash” they were all healthy.
I agree there needs to be a balance a little not too often and as natural to there normal food as possible sits with me. I love taking my 20 month old grandson and our prescloors to watch the ducks. Thanks for the ideas and thoughts every one.
Thank Joy, I’m so glad it was helpful x