I’m sure that most of us like feeding the animals. Heck, some of us have to feed the animals every day, our dogs, cats, horses and what have you. Then we have to pick up what comes out the other end, they being the animals they are. The feeding of wild animals possess different issues. Urban dwellers on the edge of open spaces are urged not to keep food for their pets out at night so as not to attract coyotes, raccoons or bobcats. There are regulations in our National Parks about food use and storage pertaining to black bears. Animals have three needs, food, shelter and water. And they will search for the most food for the least effort. Given this, if you wish to attract an animal or bird, put out food and they will come! Water helps a lot also. However we don’t always want, or should have, some critters real close. There is the ethical issue of the animal becoming dependent on a non-natural food source and losing touch with it’s normal habitat and habits. There is the issue of over population, creating more animals, through our feeding, than the habitat can sustain once the feeding stops. And here’s a twist, I’ll have a future blog on how I raised the numbers of alligator lizards, through feeding, much to the delight of the snakes. And there are other issues as well, as you will see further in my blog. This does not include all the other animals that I feed inadvertently. There are bunches of rabbits, fox squirrels, occasional deer, and mantled ground squirrels that forage in my yard on the plants that I put in the yard for decorative purposes! Oh well, they are nice to have around to watch and I can always replant. Well, here’s my thoughts on these issues and on how and what I feed.
Feeding birds does not seem to have these concerns. One thing I noticed is that for what we feed the birds they will always go off and forage on their own. The hummers all go to the flowers, the orioles go of after insects, the oak titmice, the house wrens and California towhees all go off foraging after feeding with us. And the squirrels do also. They all seem to have a drive to search for more food, remember the three needs? Because of that, I am not sure that birds would become dependent. Except for nectar feeders I do not put out any other full time feeders. In urban yards it’s a great thing to put out seed feeders for the birds. It helps make up for lost habitat from development. We can do things to help our yard be an urban oasis. In the winter that feeding can be crucial for the birds survival. However, my yard is a wild yard, not urban . There is food for everyone here. What I did was add lots of water. I have six bird baths! If you don’t think that helps bring things in! Hey, this is Southern California after all. For help making your yard more bird friendly please contact YardMap, http://www.yardmap.org/, Cornel Lab of Ornithology. Although I would like to, I don’t put out seed feeders or piles of seeds for one reason, scrub jays! The food attracts them. I try to shoo them away as much as I can and they have seemed to have taken the hint. They are little Velociraptors with wings! They are the primary reason for a lot of my nest failures with NestWatch, http://www.nestwatch.org, Cornel Lab of Ornithology. I feed by hand.
I have found that feeding by hand has a huge benefit. The animal makes a direct connection between you and the food. If you go out to replenish a pile of food, birds that are close by will fly away until you back off. If you come out with food to feed by hand, the birds come to YOU! Feeding by hand consist of gently tossing out the food to an animal close to you. After that the ones that will take directly from the hand will show themselves. The animals and birds lose their wariness of you. You are not a threat, you are a food source! What this means is that they do their thing closer to you even when they are not being fed. Instead of the squirrels, or birds, staying twenty feet away they are now at your feet. You can then see a lot more of their habits and antics. Their whole behavior with you changes. It is great fun to watch them close up!
The fox squirrels get the same treatment. What I also do with any animal that I feed is I try to feed them later in the day. I want them to be out foraging on their own so they don’t lose touch with their habitat. What we give them is a nice healthy snack as a supplement to their diet. Trying not to be a main food source. There is plenty of food around here for them. I just want them friendly.
One thing about squirrels though, they can be a little aggressive at times. Especially if there are more than one feeding. And they have claws as sharp as a cats, with very sharp teeth. Believe me, we know! One morning I was at the kitchen table reading the paper when I heard this crash against the window. When I looked up there was nothing to be seen. Within a few seconds a paw came up grabbing the window frame and a head that soon followed! It was Precious. She had seen me from the oak that is about two and a half feet from the window and had tried to jump to the ledge. We at first thought this was very cute and we went out and fed her. WRONG! She started to make this a habit. She was training us! We stopped rewarding that habit and she quit. Thank God. I really thought she might break the window. I just think one has to be very aware when your feeding the wild animals.
The “other issue” that I referred to in my first paragraph is that the fox squirrels are an introduced species. They were introduced to the LA. area in 1904. By 1947 they were considered an agricultural pest. They are basically an invasive species. I knew this when we started feeding them. The problem for me was that I have not allowed us to have any pets. Cats are voracious killers and even dogs will keep the animals away. My wife has always had pets, especially cats. She really misses that and had focused on the squirrels. She was the one that first got them to feed by hand. I am not blaming her though, I’m right there with her feeding them. It’s a ton of fun and as I mentioned we get to observe them more. Dr. Alan Munchlinsky of California State University, Los Angeles has a Fox Squirrel Project going on so I plan to contact him to see what he thinks of all this. I would appreciate any comments anyone would have regarding this. All I know for sure is that one has to be careful feeding the Wild Ones.
Yours in Nature,