Feeding wildlife the no-nuisance way
In the early 2000s researchers surveyed residents in the Brisbane area to find out how many people fed wildlife. The results showed that about one in three households provided food for native animals. If this is typical of the rest of Queensland then, if you’re not feeding wildlife, at least one of your neighbours probably is.
Why feed? A person can enjoy interacting with an animal that is wild: making eye contact, seeing small details and colours in its fur or feathers, or discovering how they behave and getting to know it as an individual.
But a few people take this to the other extreme. Providing more food and attracting more wildlife, can be seen simply as providing greater care. But attracting large numbers of wild birds to the one place can soon lead to them spilling over into neighbours’ properties. In these situations the wildlife becomes an unwanted nuisance, triggering disputes that can be difficult to resolve. At the same time bringing wildlife together in unnaturally high numbers can cause stress, spread disease and expose these animals to nutritional disorders if the wrong food (or too much of it) is provided.
The information provided below is about how to plan ahead and to feed wildlife responsibly, while also being considerate to your neighbours.
Feeding wildlife can be fun, but is it good for the animal?
If done responsibly there is little impact. But you need to understand the risks. There are a few things to consider before you next put out any food for the wildlife in your backyard:
- What animals will be coming to feed? This will depend on how natural your surroundings are, but you should expect to see a range of common urban birds and (at night) possums. Always expect the unexpected: unusual sightings are always possible and can provide important information about a species.
- What is it and what does it eat? Identify the birds and other animals that are coming to your backyard with a field guide or on the internet and take note of their diet or watch them to see what they eat. What you feed them should match their natural diet. Your garden should also provide a natural source of nectar, fruit and insects so wildlife can find their own food. You can see wildlife up close by planting a cluster of shrubs near a window where birds can eat and hide.
- Is there anything I shouldn’t feed wildlife? Avoid processed foods like bread and mince, and seed mixes with a high proportion of sunflower seeds (they can cause fat deposits to build up around a bird’s liver).
- How much should I feed it? Aim for what you think would be a ‘snack’ so that an animal still needs to find most of its own food. If birds or possums are fighting over food then you may have a problem. Rather than supplying more food, break up the current amount into smaller portions and put them on feeding platforms in different places about your yard. This will help the wildlife feed without the need for aggression and stress. Fresh water can be provided throughout the day.
- When should I feed? Vary when you feed so that birds don’t learn to expect food at that time every day. Don’t expect wildlife to feed in the middle of the day (but they may look for water then).
- Will it be safe? When animals are feeding they can be less alert for predators. Any feeding platform should be protected from cats and be close enough to vegetation to so that any birds aren’t at a higher risk of being preyed on by goshawks and falcons.
- Will it be healthy for the animal (and me)? Hygiene is as important to animals as it is to people. Clean off any stale food and animal droppings left behind after feeding and regularly disinfect any surfaces used for feeding. Do not place food onto these surfaces until they are dry. Water should be replaced regularly. You should consider your health as well. There are several diseases carried by animals that can be transmitted by animals. Visit the Queensland Health website for more information. Having close contact with animals is believed to good for your health; helping reduce stress.
- What else might show up? There are animals that are ever ready to exploit a ‘free meal’. If you have to shoo away ibis and crows all the time, and you are finding rat droppings on the feeding platform, then you may have to think of ways to exclude these opportunists.
- What will your neighbours think? Some of your neighbours are likely to either be feeding wildlife, or have gardens that provide food and shelter. While this can be an enjoyable experience for the people who are feeding animals, it could also become a problem as the wildlife wait at feeding platforms and spill over into yards where large numbers of hungry wild animals aren’t welcome.
- Is the feeding attracting too many animals? In nature, the amount of food is often limited and available for a short time, with most wildlife passing through a location in small numbers looking for food, feeding, then moving on. If someone provides too much food, or makes it available every day, wildlife will take advantage and can learn to return regularly, waiting for it to be put out. If they are a social animal they may wait in large numbers causing significant noise and leaving behind a mess of droppings, feathers and scattered food.
- Will the animals cause a nuisance? Occasionally someone can become over-zealous about wildlife feeding, motivated by concern that these animals are hungry or need human help to survive. Overfeeding can turn neighbours’ roofs into roosts covered in droppings where hundreds of squabbling lorikeets perch beside ibis and crows, as they wait for the next meal. If there is a regular supply of leftovers it may attract rats and mice as well. The landholder is ultimately responsible for the wildlife on their land and should avoid feeding animals in a way that they become a nuisance or threaten health and safety.
What to do if someone else is feeding wildlife and it is causing a nuisance
The best and most direct solution is often to talk to the person who is feeding the wildlife and discuss some of the points mentioned above. If you don’t feel this approach will work—or have tried it unsuccessfully—you could contact your local government, who can provide advice on issues associated with noise, smell, health risks and vermin.
If the issue raises concerns from a species conservation perspective, you can contact the department, who can provide advice on how to protect it.
When feeding wildlife is illegal
Local governments differ in their local laws and policies regarding wildlife feeding. You should check if your council has a local law prohibiting feeding of all native animals, or just certain species (e.g. crows, ibises). Councils may also indirectly regulate wildlife feeding where it becomes a source of noise or other nuisance, or when the food provided for the wildlife also attracts vermin.
The Queensland Government also regulates wildlife feeding under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Under that Act the feeding of a native animal that is dangerous (such as a crocodile), or if the feeding creates an immediate threat to human health and safety (such as feeding birds beside a road in such a way that they interfere with traffic), is not allowed. The feeding of animals on a protected area such as a national park is also prohibited.
If your wildlife nuisance issue isn’t unlawful, and hasn’t been resolved after attempting the steps mentioned above, as a last resort, the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (JAG) provides dispute resolution services, including mediation, which could provide an alternative way of resolving the bird feeding issue with your neighbour. JAG can be contacted on (07) 3239 6277 or 1800 017 288 or online.
Encountering wildlife without feeding
By far the best way to ensure you have the company of wildlife is to go to natural places like national parks and take up the challenge of encountering a wild animal on its own terms.
Even at home you can create your own wildlife habitat. Grow native plants that provide nectar-rich flowers, fruits and leaves that local wildlife will feed on. In time these plants will form part of a wildlife-friendly garden that provides patches of shelter and habitat for native birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs and invertebrates. Add a comfortable seat to watch from and you can start to enjoy meeting some of your wild neighbours in a wildlife-friendly way.