Thursday, March 17, 2016

To Feed or not to Feed

Going where the food is -
After I posted this blog on feeding bears, I started thinking about what causes humans to want to feed wildlife. These acts blend the self-gratifying sense of feeding those in need, (even if they don't need it), with the desire to tame nature or at least bring it in close to us (but only on our own terms). We feed birds on our deck along Bull Creek. Squirrels are tolerated on corn cobs but discouraged on bird feeders. Raccoons express their gratitude by tearing down feeders and leaving seed-filled deposits on the deck.
A good day at the feeder  REK
Even among the bird visitors we impose our own social ranking. There is the normal neighbors, the chickadee, nuthatch, finch, and cardinal. We pause in conversation with friends to point out the arrival of a red-belly woodpecker. A downy woodpecker warrants a second look to be sure we haven't mistaken its cousin, the hairy woodpecker, higher ranked by its infrequent visits. In season there are even orange slices out for an oriole, the equivalent of a visit by royalty. We scare off crows which will devour a suet block in minutes and cowbirds that are a threat to songbirds.

Is feeding animals good or bad? The answer is "it depends." The good is obvious, the bad requires more thought. We know that bringing deer together in close proximity leads to increased risk of hemorrhagic disease and chronic wasting disease. Bird feeders can be a source of spread of avian pox, Aspergillosis and other disease and there are recommendations for preventing them. Feeding bears deliberately or accidentally with garbage or dog food lessens their fear and can produce a dangerous bear at risk of future euthanasia.

Americans spend over $3 billion each year on food for wild birds according to an essay Why do we Feed Wild Animals from the New York Times. It gives a thoughtful analysis of our varied motives as well as exploring the loneliness that leads some people to face fines for defying feeding bans.

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