Who used to bring bread crumbs to the park to feed the ducks? Still do it? Don’t play innocent … you must have at least done it as a child. I did too. It’s what was done. People really didn’t know the possible hazards. There’s even a song in one of the most beloved Disney movies, Mary Poppins, called “Feed the Birds.” It used to be considered a great way for children to interact with local wildlife. It was fun. But, as it turns out, it’s a really bad idea. And, it’s not only the ducks we should be worried about. Humans feed all kinds of wildlife, and sometimes even animals kept in enclosures.
My city happens to have a “farmstead” in our major, central park. The facility is home to a number of llamas, goats, sheep, peacocks, roosters, rabbits, donkeys and the like. It’s a very popular place for families to take young kids. On every fence is a sign that reads “Please don’t feed the animals.” Nearby, in the water, surrounded by a flock of mallard ducks and Canada geese, there is another sign requesting that people refrain from feeding the waterfowl (though the bizarre placement of the sign would require anyone trying to read it to wade a few metres into the water). Without exception, every time I go to this park with my
kids, right next to a sign, there is somebody feeding animals. Typical fare is bread, veggies, French fries, fish crackers, and yesterday it was pretzels. These animals see a constant stream of visitors, and devour a constant stream of snack foods.
So, is there really any harm in throwing a few crumbs to a duck, or poking some pretzels into a cage?
Yes. Here’s why:
- Foods like bread, when they sit around or sink in the water, can grow harmful types of bacteria (such as Botulism and Aspergillus), which is toxic to wildfowl.
- When ducks crowd around “feeding” areas, they defecate in the same place they eat, further increasing the chance of illness.
- Farmstead and zoo animals are on specific diets, and keepers cannot control what or how much people bring in for them to eat. Would you let people just come and hand your kid random snacks through your window all day long? I didn’t think so.
- Many human snacks are not fit for human consumption, let alone for other animals (goldfish crackers: 1/2 a snack trap = 2x the salt of a single serving bag of potato chips).
- Animals that are fed this way become habituated to human presence, develop unnatural migration patterns, and lose important fear instincts.
- Animals that approach humans may carry disease or become aggressive.
To be honest though, it really is a shame. It was a fun activity.
So, here are a few alternatives.
- Get a pet. My kids LOVE feeding treats to my pets. My pets LOVE my kids (or perhaps, more likely, they tolerate them for the sake of the treats).
- Visit petting zoos where they let you feed animals with designated snacks. Hint: petting zoos do NOT have signs that say: “Please do not touch the animals.” That’s how you can tell the difference.
- Learn more with your kids about the animals you see regularly. Knowing more about a species makes them infinitely more interesting to watch, and a little knowledge never hurt anyone.
- Observe the animals closely. Try sitting down with your kids. Bring paper to draw, or write down what you notice. Figure out how to identify a particular individual, and watch its habits.
- See if you can visit farm or zoo at feeding times. Better yet, visit a real working farm, and see if you and the kids can help care for the animals.
What other ways can we help kids develop an interest in animals?