Up to 40 per cent of all urban households feed backyard wildlife. But is this a good idea for animals and birds – or people?
For and against: Debate rages about the rights and wrongs of feeding backyard wildlife. Wildlife Queensland, does not advocate artificial feeding of backyard wildlife
. But we recognise that the feeding issue is complex – even conservationists are divided.
We want to provide some of the arguments to help you make your own decision.
First, think why you want to feed backyard wildlife. Then, if you do decide to feed, make sure you are protecting the very wildlife you seek to attract. If you must feed wildlife, do it responsibly.
Against feeding wildlife
- Diseases are easily passed on at feeding stations when lots of animals and birds get together. Some animal diseases can also be passed to humans.
- Less dominant animals are forced away from the areas around feeding stations and more dominant species (eg kookaburras and butcherbirds) get an unnatural advantage. See FAQ.
- Animals that become used to being fed might lose their fear of people. This puts them at risk around people who don’t appreciate wildlife.
- Your neighbours might not appreciate flocks of birds or possums on their roof.
- Predators, especially cats and dogs, target feeding wildlife.
- Dropped food encourages rats and mice.
For Feeding Wildlife
- Feeding promotes wildlife awareness. People who enjoy direct contact with nature are more likely to support wildlife conservation.
- Wild birds and animals don’t lose their natural foraging skills just because they are getting some of their food from humans.
- Birds are often the best pest controllers for your garden.
If you want to feed wildlife in your backyard, use these hints to help make sure that animals and birds – and humans – benefit.
What to feed
Find out about the natural diet of the wildlife species you want to attract and provide similar food. Plant shelter, roosting and nesting plant species as well as food species.
- Plant a variety of native trees and shrubs that flower or fruit at different times. Native shrubs also attract the insects that wildlife species eat.
- Never provide sugar or bread or milk. All processed foods are bad for wildlife.
- Only feed fresh food.
- Avoid feeding black sunflower seeds – they contain too much oil. Avoid seeds that are likely to spread as weed species. Use proper wild bird mixture, not aviary seed mixtures.
- Provide a clean water source, safe from predators.
Where to feed
By all means have fun watching wildlife feed but make sure you don’t place them in danger. Use a feeding station that is in partial shade, gives birds a clear view of any approaching predators but also has vegetation cover nearby.
- Provide food in a safe environment, free from pesticides or chemicals.
- Put the feeding station out of reach of cats or dogs, for example, hang it from a safe tree branch.
- Never put food on the ground.
- Place the food station in the open, so that wildlife can spot predators, with vegetation cover nearby so feeding wildlife can take cover.
How to feed
- Don’t provide too much food. Limit the amount you put out and put it out intermittently. Wildlife will still come.
- Clean the feeding station after every feed. This prevents rats and mice from eating the leftovers and gets rid of contaminated food and water that can spread disease to wildlife and humans.
- An outdoor light at night will attract insects and provide a food source for frogs and geckoes
I’ve been feeding the birds in my backyard for years. Won’t they starve while I’m away?
No. Birds and animals don’t lose their innate skills so quickly. Wild animals still forage for natural foods even while humans feed them. As when a natural food source goes out of season, animals move on to find food elsewhere. Just make sure that you aren’t putting out too much food.
Is it OK to feed kookaburras and butcherbirds, or brushtail possums, on my back deck?
Probably not, for several reasons. Kookaburras and butcherbirds can become aggressive to each other, to less-dominant species, and even to humans when they get used to being fed. Brushtail possums become very demanding.
Is it OK to feed any birds on my back deck?
No. Some birds, such as parrots and lorikeets, carry diseases that can be passed to humans. In addition, birds will defecate wherever you feed them, so you should feed them away from where you eat. Another reason not to feed birds close to your own home is to reduce their direct contact with humans so that they don’t lose their natural fear of people.