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Why Does Wildlife Come Into My Yard"
A Modern Day Love/Hate Relationship
A customer comes to the counter with a deer salt lick, some squirrel corn, and 10 pounds of scratch feed for the wild turkeys that pass through her yard. The next customer has a bottle of predator urine, a bottle of Deer Off®, and a live animal trap.
And so it goes, in this day and age of sharing our space with the woodland creatures we're forcing into our space. According to my own calculations, half of you love 'em, a quarter of you like 'em but think they're a nuisance, and a quarter of you hate 'em.
More and more people are feeding woodland creatures these days because they love to watch them in their back yards. And the practice is not without controversy. Some environmental or animal advocacy organizations frown upon it, some don't necessarily frown upon it, and still others simply turn a blind eye to it. And the general public does what it wants, anyway.
You may be wondering if your humble reporter has an opinion on the practice. An opinion on something? Moi? This may come as a surprise, but I do, indeed.
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There are humane organizations that tolerate the practice, but with an asterisk. They won't yell at you for feeding wildlife as long as the animal isn't harmed, or put in harm's way, by the practice.
For example, by feeding inappropriate food, especially human food, or luring them from across the road, or placing the food in an area that would subject them to danger, either natural or man-made.
Then there are organizations that would absolutely be in your face for encouraging wild animals. Well, as a person who watches a lot of folks buy products to discourage wild animals, I can tell you they don't need encouragement. They're here, whether you play a part or not.
I would, however, disqualify most wild animals from a backyard feeding program and limit the "accepted list" to wild birds, game birds, squirrels and deer.
I was always envious of people who had wild turkeys pass through their yard. Now I've got the critters coming up on my deck, feeding under the bird feeder I have there.
It started in August of 2013 (which is when I updated this hub) as a hen and three poults climbed the stairs to my deck, which is about 12 feet off the ground.
They come up several times each day. I don't know what they'll do when the poults strike out on their own. I expect they'll join a flock and introduce their flockmates to our deck. Stay tuned. (Note to self: you know you're gonna forget to update this)
You can buy nutritionally appropriate feed for those species, they stand a better chance at evading predation, and they don't normally pose a safety threat to humans.
Of course, there are the automatic caveats: any animal is unpredictable, they can spread disease and parasites, and they can become a nuisance. For example, you may have a ball feeding the deer, but your neighbor is pulling his hair out because they're decimating his ornamental plantings.
I certainly wouldn't encourage raccoons or skunks (yes, I've known people who leave food out for the cute little skunk that passes through the yard) because they can become habituated and very bold and aggressive when they don't get their way. In addition, they're primary vectors for rabies.
I wouldn't encourage rabbits, either, but only because you could be setting them up for an attack by hawks, foxes or coyotes.
If you elect to feed wildlife you should do so with their welfare ahead of your desire to observe them from the comfort of your favorite chair. Feeders should be located near natural cover, so that the animals can easily disappear into their element if danger appears.
Food needs to be consistent with their natural diet. Bread, leftover bagels, muffins, or popcorn are not appropriate. They're not nutritionally relevant and some animals don't have the necessary digestive apparatus to extract any nutrition at all from them.
One could argue that feeding wildlife is a way in which the average person can practice conservation…certainly it’s a good way to introduce small children to the concept of conservation. And, you’ll be teaching them an interesting and fun hobby that they’ll be able to enjoy for the next 80 or 90 years.
Another benefit is that gift giving occasions would become a snap. What backyard naturalist wouldn't love another bird feeder, 50 lbs. of birdseed, or a gift card to their favorite feed and grain store or other places where they shop.
For the most part, backyard feeding is supplemental. The animals' primary diet remains the flora and fauna they naturally consume. Still, there are feeds available that are complete and balanced, and those make excellent choices for backyard feeding.
No matter if you're "fer 'em or agin 'em," continued habitat encroachment by homo sapiens assures that wild animals will be in our backyards whether we otherwise encourage them or not.