by Joe Yarchin
Urban wildlife specialist, Arizona Game and Fish Department
When people feed wildlife, they are not doing the animals any favors. There are nutritional considerations that differ from those of humans, especially while breeding and raising young.
An animal that is ill or malnourished may compromise the health and safety of humans as well as other wildlife populations. Without knowledge, but with good intent, many people doom the animal to an unhealthy and sometimes short life.
Actively feeding wildlife generally causes animals to become habituated to humans: They associate humans with food. When an animal expects to be fed, problems start. This often leads to the animal becoming aggressive if it is not fed. Some animals show their insistence in more subtle ways than actively attacking.
Many times animals are inadvertently attracted to a feeding site. Feeding birds and small mammals often allows javelina and predators to frequent an area.
Frequently the people who have problems with aggressive or destructive wildlife are not the ones who are feeding animals, but people who live in the neighborhood. The animal expects food and approaches any human and/or destroys property. Neighbors that are not tolerant of wildlife may not enjoy having animals around, especially if they are a problem, and therefore will complain to us and demand action.
Giving supplemental food can lead to artificially inflated wildlife populations. If extra food stops being available, the local population could crash. If animal numbers get too high, the capacity for the immediate habitat to sustain that population could be surpassed, and a crash in numbers could occur. Inflated populations also lead to more potential for disease or negative human/animal interactions. This can cause a local population to be removed completely, which leaves no wildlife for anyone to enjoy. If problems arise, for whatever reason, unfortunately it is the animals that pay, either by removal or with their lives.
Many animals teach their young about obtaining food. In areas where supplemental feeding occurs, the young are taught to find and expect easy food. As generations of urban wildlife continue, each successive generation will have less natural ability to survive without human assistance. Eventually, even removing the animal to the wilds is not an option because the animal has lost the ability to survive in the wild. Again, a negative consequence is reached due to people "loving the wildlife to death."
Please be a good neighbor to both humans and wildlife. People should enjoy wildlife as it naturally occurs, not when enhanced by supplemental feeding. If not enticed into an area, only seeing wildlife occasionally is a special event.