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How To Feed Mammals In The Garden

Updated on June 1, 2014

What About Us?

The European Hedgehog
The European Hedgehog | Source


Many of us take great delight in feeding and observing the behaviour of the feathered characters that frequent our gardens, but what about the furry ones. It seems rather strange, that while many garden centres and pets shops are stocked full with bird food, there’s hardly any for wild mammals. Yet, I have found from personal experience that feeding wild mammals can be just delightful and engaging to watch. Also it can help provide a valuable insight into aspects of their behaviour you would never normally witness. Food can also assist young mammals to survive when other food is scarce, young foxes and badgers in particular greatly benefit from the odd hand out. But before you start putting out bowls of food, there are some important things to consider.

The Dos and Don'ts

The Dos:

  1. Only ever offer small amounts of food and adjust the rate you feed them when applicable. For example, badgers enter a state of semi- torpor during winter, it’s not quite hibernation; they’ll just simply stay underground, cutting their activity down to a minimum to conserve energy. They usually start in mid December and lasts for about a month. Also on a warm and wet night, it’s better to leave the badgers and foxes to forage for one of their favourite meals, earthworms.
  2. Only ever put out high quality food to minimise the risk of disease
  3. Be sure to clean any feeders and utensils; from time to time soak them in sterilising fluid.
  4. If you happen to have hedgehogs breeding in your garden, or your neighbours. Avoid attracting foxes and badgers until the youngsters are fully grown. Badgers are, in a matter of fact the hedgehogs only natural predator, they use their powerful claws that can unravel a hedgehog that’s curled itself into a ball.

The Don’ts:

  1. By all accounts never attempt to encourage a fox take food from your hand, as it would undoubtedly turn into a habit. As a result the fox would become a nuisance to other people.
  2. Never encourage a fox to enter your house for food, as it may then start to enter other people’s houses via cat flaps and open windows, and cause mayhem. Not so long ago, in Britain there was a story of a fox that entered somebody’s house in London and savaged a baby. The fox, somewhere along the line had lost its fear of man, and unfortunately the baby which had been left alone was a vulnerable target.
  3. Never overfeed foxes, as they will become inclined to remain in the vicinity of the garden for a long time, they will foul your garden and your neighbours as well, thus causing tension and possibly conflict.
  4. Overfeeding in general can cause changes in behaviour; the animals may reduce their territory size and gradually lose their natural fear of man. Overfeeding can also lead to increases in the numbers of individual foxes and badgers in a social group, thus causing a change in the dynamics of the local population, undoubtedly leading to greater conflict.
  5. One of the foods that people put out for birds are peanuts. However, it is important you never put out whole peanuts, unless they are in a mesh feeder, as small birds can easily choke on whole peanuts. Mammals will gladly accept peanuts, but make sure you put these out after dark in small quantities to ensure that there’s nothing left in the morning.

An Increasingly Common Sight in Gardens

The European Badger
The European Badger

An Ingenious Feeder

Squirrel Deterrant

If you fit the squirrel baffle above your bird feeder, then it should stop them from disturbing the birds.
If you fit the squirrel baffle above your bird feeder, then it should stop them from disturbing the birds. | Source

The Wild Animals and What to Feed Them

Badgers: They absolutely love peanuts and will also take dog food, brown bread, cheese and any sweet items.

Hedgehogs: You can feed them with commercial cereal food, but this is usually very expensive. If you do opt for it, then make sure you provide water for them as well, as they are very dry. They will also eat peanuts, mixed seeds and dried fruits, they are the option to go for if you want to save money; what’s more you can just scatter them over the lawn. Hedgehogs will happily gobble up any cat and dog food, but bear in mind that any fish based food will go off very quickly. Never give them bread or milk, as it will give them diarrhoea. By nature, Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures, so if you ever come across one in daylight, it may be ill. However, lactating females will often forage in daylight in hot and dry weather, so don't be quick to presume. If its clear that the hedgehog is in distress, then try feeding it, if that fails, call your local rescue centre.

Squirrels: Many people despise the pesky grey squirrel that enters the garden, and promptly gorges itself on food meant for birds. You can keep them away by fitting a baffle (a large plastic cone) above your feeder to prevent access. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where red squirrels are still common then use a specialist feeder called a hopper that uses a device called a treddle (a see saw mechanism) to exclude its larger, grey cousin.

Pine Marten: These small predators are relatives of weasels, stoats and otters and will usually take sweet items, such as jam sandwiches, peanut butter, cake and chocolate. Be careful not to go too mad on the junk food though.

Small Mammals: If you are interested in observing the smaller mammals that enter your garden, you could try erecting a feeding table against a window to guarantee amazingly close view of mammals you never normally see, such as mice, voles and shrews. Make sure to cover the top and outer sides of the table in mesh wire with small holes to prevent predators from gaining access. You could also try making a tunnel or covered walkway stretching from the table to a log pile or another natural shelter. Mice and voles are fond of mixed grain, shrews will also eat grain, but as they are insectivores it’s better to feed them fly pupae which can be bought from a fishing tackle shop.

Deer: If you live in the countryside, then from to time to time, you will encounter deer of one species or another in your garden. If you wish, you can supplement their diet with carrots, cattle nuts and hay in a hard winter. But be warned, only encourage deer if you are prepared to see your garden trashed.

Fox: We often think of Foxes as being carnivores, but in reality they are omnivores like us, eating just about anything from meat leftovers to cake. It’s perfectly okay to give them either cooked or uncooked bones. They also love peanuts, and will often knock over bird tables and feeders to satisfy their hunger.

Do you feed the Mammals in your Garden?

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© 2012 James Kenny


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    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much. Glad you liked it!

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 4 years ago from Austin, TX

      Thanks for your wonderful guide about feeding mammals. It seems you really know what and not what you should feed to them. Voted up and useful.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi bac2basics, I've heard about the wildfires, hope you're all okay down there. As for the squirrels, I know in England, you can get squirrel food from a garden centre; other than that I would try peanuts, or are you already giving them to the birds? If that doesn't work, try monkey nuts, I've tried giving them to my birds and they just ended up being gobbled up by the squirrels. Hope that helps. Thanks for popping by.

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 5 years ago from Spain

      Hi JK. I just read this hub as we have had a huge wildfire in the area I live ( Valencia) and with so much flora destroyed I am wondering if the native fauna are finding enough to eat. I have a family of red squirrels here at the moment and they seem to be doing all right, but when the parents chase them off to find their own territory, they may struggle to find enough to eat. I shall have to do some research so I know what to put out that will interest them. I do feed the birds in winter when it´s cold and the squirrels never seem to touch anything I put out for them. Do you have any suggestions please ?

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Wow, I can't imagine having to take those sort of precautions, the biggest predator near me is the red fox. I'd love to live in an area where bears are common. Thanks for the comment.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      I live in the Badger state but we rarely get to see a badger. We do feed the deer, squirrels and birds. We can only feed in the winter. When spring comes it brings in the bears and we can't have them hanging out in the yard. Enjoyed your hub.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks sgbrown, we had a similar situation in England last summer. With large parts of Southern England experiencing a drought. In fact the government have imposed a hosepipe ban to avoid a repeat of last year. I'm glad your drought is over, it would have broken my heart to see the Deer in such a state. Thanks for the vote and the share.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Hi JKenny, this is a very good hub. I love feeding animals, birds, etc. Here in Southern Oklahoma, we have had the worst drought in many years. The deer here had very little to eat. My husband and I fed the deer and the turkey corn that is used during hunting season. I felt so sorry for the deer, you could see their ribs showing. They would come to eat twice a day and would drink water out of my birdbaths. Thank God, our drought is over now. I love this hub! Voted up, interesting and sharing! Have a great day! :)

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi grandmapearl, I love watching the mammals in my garden, even the local cat. I wish I had deer in my garden, but I live too close to the city. Fortunately we don't have skunks in England, the equivalent over here is the badger, but they don't smell anywhere near as bad, and they're not as common in gardens.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 5 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Great information here. I don't feed the mammals on purpose, but they love to sort through the fallen seeds from the bird feeders everyday. When the beautiful deer come around during the day, I am always intrigued with their gentleness. I just have to stop and watch them. Squirrels try to help themselves, so I have to chase them away if I see them. Skunks are a problem because I often have to come home when it's dark. I just would rather not accidentally surprise one! I love all these animals, but from a distance. Another great Hub. Voted Up and Interesting and Useful.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks annart, I can understand your problem with living in a town house. I live in the suburbs, and I have to watch out for pigeons and gulls as well. I also have goldfinches that feed on the thistles that I planted. Thank you for the vote. Take care.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      No problem Alicia, thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You have some interesting and useful ideas in this hub. Thanks for the information about feeding mammals in the garden.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 5 years ago from SW England

      Another fascinating hub with loads of useful information. I've moved from a house with a large country garden and all sorts of wildlife, to a town house with not much garden and lots of cats around, so though I used to love to watch the birds, we can't feed them so easily here and there are too many pigeons and seagulls around. There are, however, some beautiful gold finches which come in groups to the cherry tree on the canal bank, just over the wall. I love those. We have a pair of collared doves too, so I'm thankful for small mercies! Great writing as always. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      No problem.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Thanks, I'll tell her!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for dropping by Letitia. In answer to your questions. Firstly, with rats, its very difficult because they are very resourceful, you could try hanging food from a tree, and attach a dish to the base to prevent any food from spilling onto the ground. Rats do sometimes climb trees but not very often. Hopefully your mothers squirrels and oppossums can feed in peace. As far skunks go, the spotted skunk climbs trees, but the striped one doesn't, so if she has striped skunks then it would be very difficult to feed them and keep the rats away. Never use any poison or chemicals in the garden, as you may harm other animals.

      As far as the pine marten goes, again you could try hanging food from a tree, as they are avid climbers, make sure its at least six feet off the ground though, as foxes are very good jumpers. I was very surprised when I found that it was okay to give a pine marten sweet treats, but I think its important to only ever give them small amounts. Also, if your mother intends to put out chocolate, make sure its light chocolate, because the darker it it, the more toxic it is. I hope that helps in some way.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      That's great advice. I've got a couple of questions. My mother, who lives in So. California, was feeding the squirrels, opposum and skunks in her yard, but then the rats joined in and she stopped it all. Is there anyway to get around rats the way there is to get around squirrels?

      Secondly, since chocolate is deathly toxic to cats and dogs, I was surprised their carnivore cousin the pine marten could eat it. Any way to leave it for pine martens and keep the foxes away from it?

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Christopher, I can understand your concern about your cat, most of the time I think it would be alright, but you just never know, it only takes one. I've recently planted some Buddleia to try to encourage more butterflies into my garden. I've also got some hazel, hawthorn and elder, so I hope to attract a menagerie of wildlife.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      I certainly feed the birds, and this year I hope to set things up so I can attract more insects, especially bees and butterflies. I don't want to attract foxes and badgers, as they might fight with my cat. Her welfare is my priority.

      If I had more space, I would love to feed a few mammals as well.

      Thanks for a very interesting article. Voted up, and deservedly so.