A busy squirrel scurries through a picnic area.
A sparrow hops around on the ground near the campsite fire pit.
A small herd of deer graze on the short grass near the playground.
New York State Parks provide a home to countless species of wildlife. They also provide a way for us visitors to experience and enjoy endless wildlife encounters. It is important to remember that wild animals live in balance with their habitat, eating foods that provide them with the best nutrition. There are different reasons people may want to feed wild animals such as ducks, chipmunks, deer, or raccoons, but feeding wildlife can cause much more harm than good.
Reasons not to feed wild animals:
It leads to poor nutrition.
Feeding wild animals “people foods” like bread, marshmallows, or popcorn impacts their health in several ways. Animals have specific diets and these human foods do not contain the nutrients needed to keep the animal healthy. Like with people, poor nutrition in baby animals may even lead to health problems as the young animals grow. Young ducks and geese, for example, may develop a defect in their wings if fed an improper diet. This syndrome, commonly called “Angel Wing,” is incurable in adults and likely leads to an early death because the bird is unable to fly. In addition, when animals are continuously fed people food, they could become dependent on that food source and stop feeding on their natural foods. Young animals may not learn how to feed normally and could become less able to survive in their natural habitat.
It changes their behavior.
Have you ever had seagulls try to steal your French fries? Wildlife that are accustomed to being fed lose their natural fear of people. They might learn to associate all people with food, which leads them to become bolder towards humans. This could become a safety issue and unfortunately the animal may need to be permanently removed. Animals that are fed human food may also become more aggressive towards each other as they compete for food scraps. Feeding can influence migration as well; animals dependent on an unnatural food source may not migrate during the normal time of year.
It can increase the chance of disease.
Food provided by people can cause wildlife to gather in greater numbers than normal, which can increase the spread of disease. Some of these diseases can even be spread to people. This is another important reason to leave wild animals be.
As you can see, feeding wildlife has many serious consequences. Animals do not understand the negative impacts of feeding; with your help, we can keep our park animals wild and healthy by not feeding them. And, it is State Parks’ policy to prohibit the feeding of wildlife by the public at all state parks and historic sites.
You do not need to feed the wildlife to enjoy their presence. Instead, try quietly watching the ducks from a nearby bench at the shore, snap some pictures of a deer from a safe distance, or break out the binoculars at a bird blind to get a better look at wildlife. If you don’t have binoculars, your local park nature center may have some available to share!
Post by Kelsey Ruffino, State Parks
Featured image: Petr Kratochvil – http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/5756, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13281242