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Should you feed wildlife?

Generally, Toronto Wildlife Centre does not encourage feeding wild animals. Here’s why:

Feeding wildlife creates conflict

Feeding wild animals may be rewarding to the person doing the feeding, but it can be dangerous for wildlife. If the animals start to associate people with food, they may become more visible, bolder, or more likely to approach humans. Some people may be annoyed or frightened by this behaviour, and act on it in a way that harms the animal—from trapping and relocating a mother, to setting dangerous traps or baits in their yard, to physically injuring or killing the animal themselves. Toronto Wildlife Centre receives many calls about conflicts, and many involve animals that have obviously been fed by someone with good intentions but bad results.

Feeding wildlife can be unhealthy

Feeding wild animals can discourage them from foraging for their natural food sources. This can lead to health problems, since the foods we choose to feed them are usually not as diverse or nutritionally complete as what they’d find in the wild.

Take the example of feeding bread to ducks and geese. White bread isn’t very good for them, but it’s very filling – like junk food. Waterfowl who are fed bread feel full, so they don’t go looking for the plants and microorganisms that usually make up their diet. For growing babies this can lead to nutritional deficiencies that affect their development, like a deformity called “Angel Wing”. It also causes birds to produce more waste, which ultimately leads to more human conflict, as above.

Feeding wildlife can make them sick

Feeding wildlife encourages larger numbers of animals to group together than would happen naturally. If one of them is sick, the disease can easily spread through the group. We see this a lot at backyard birdfeeders, with infections such as coccidiosis, salmonella, and conjunctivitis often proving fatal to birds. If you do keep backyard birdfeeders, make sure to clean them regularly.

The right way to feed wildlife

If you would like to help the wildlife in your neighbourhood, consider replanting your garden with native plants, shrubs, and trees. These can be a food source while also providing habitat and shelter, which are equally important. In the fall, don’t cut down dead flowers or seed heads. A fresh shallow water source can also benefit a number of animals—just make sure to clean it and change the water regularly.