When questioning what to feed wild birds, the answer should always be no crackers for quackers, no handouts for honkers, and no treats for tweets.
“You should not feed wildlife anything—they don’t need it,” said Linda Bakker, co-executive director of the Wildlife Rescue Association—a British Columbian organization dedicated to rehabilitating wildlife affected by human activity.
“They live here, they have been living here for many years, they’re completely adapted to their environment, and know what’s best for them nutrition-wise,” Bakker explained during a telephone interview.
Which is exactly what Hope resident, Linda Murphy, wants to remind everyone.
Shortly after spring sprung, and waterfowl began returning to nest, Murphy says she began noting odd behaviour of both the birds and the birdwatchers at Sucker’s Creek. While visiting the area one day last month, she says she witnessed a woman driving slowly next to the waterway tossing bread out her window, and several Canadian Geese were approaching the road and refusing to move out of the way of vehicles.
“I’ve never seen it this bad here, with them refusing to move off the road. One even flew at my car because they see it as a food source,” explained Murphy, who’s rehabilitated geese previously, and is a lover of birds.
It’s gotten so bad that Murphy says she turned her vehicle around last month to approach the bread-tosser, but instead found a just-killed gander, hit by a vehicle because it was too close to the road, which she moved into the bushes out of respect for both the bird, and other vehicles.
“Geese mate for life,” Murphy continued, and when she stopped to move the gander, she could see and hear the gander’s goose calling out for him. “She may or may not ever find another mate.”
|A lone goose. Linda Murphy says she believes this is the female who was left without her mate when it was hit by a car in April. Sarah Gawdin/Hope Standard|
“Some species (of birds) are very prone to habituation, especially Canadian Geese, and they’ll get very used to people coming up and they’ll start coming next to the road, which is very dangerous,” said Bakker.
Not to mention that “what (people) usually feed (wildlife) is human food,” Bakker continued, “and it’s not good for them. They don’t get the right nutrition from it, and they’re actually worse off.
“Even when you throw out an apple core from your car window, (birds) will come up to that and get hit, or mice will go to it, and a bird of prey will see and land and (maybe) get hit, so (feeding wildlife) causes secondary issues as well.
“And usually, when (people) feed, they overfeed way too much food, which is littering and polluting the area as well,” Bakker added.
“Bread is so bad for birds,” Murphy said while attending Sucker’s Creek with The Hope Standard for this story. “It causes an unnatural amount of water contamination that leads to algae blooms that leads to the death of fish” and other food sources for the birds.
“And when their goslings hatch out … they will be learning the same vicious cycle their parents are being taught: when a wild animal learns to live on handouts from humans, they do not learn to forage and survive on their own. They’re not wild anymore.”
The issue, though, says Bakker, is people feed the birds because they have the “best of intentions. People have this extreme urge to feed wildlife, which is very hard to change, and very difficult to change because it comes from a good place of wanting to help, but it’s really not necessary … and in the long run, it’s not a good situation.”
They’re not pets “and we don’t want them to be—you don’t want geese following you (because) they can also become a nuisance,” Bakker continued.
“I’ve seen them nipping at clothes and at kids trying to get food, so people should not be feeding these geese,” Murphy emphasized.
Instead, she says the best way to enjoy the birds is to “just watch and learn and enjoy. Take pictures.”
“Bird-watching is getting really popular,” added Bakker in agreement. ”So buy nice binoculars, a bird book, and try to find or spot from a distance as many birds as you can. But real interaction should be avoided.
“They may not have teeth, but hand-feeding is dangerous, they can still bite and they have sharp ridges inside their beaks. Really, what’s important is that they find their own food because they are able to and it’s what’s best for them.”
“I find it so peaceful out here,” said Murphy about Sucker’s Creek. “I get excited every year to see who’s come back to nest, so seeing (the dead bird) and people feeding the geese, I’m just sick about it, it’s really bad because they’re (possibly) wrecking the whole ecosystem and we’ll have generations of birds raised on bread by people, and they can actually die from eating bread.
“Just observe them doing their own natural thing,” she added. “I guarantee you will learn more than (you do when you) have them eat out of your hands on the road. Otherwise, you are literally killing them with what you think is kindness.”