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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Time to Supplement Wildlife Food

With one of the snowiest weeks imaginable in Arkansas behind us and a few days of reasonably normal late winter weather predicted, this seems a little late to mention feeding birds and other wildlife.

But the fact is that for most of us who think in terms of hunting more than we think about watching wildlife, the winding down of hunting seasons is the beginning of our time to notice the need for supplementing the food supply of wild things.

Natural food supplies for birds and other wildlife that depend on seeds, nuts and such that mature in fall are nearly exhausted just before spring brings fresh buds to munch.

There are those, mostly professional wildlife managers, who question whether any supplementary feeding ought to be done. They argue that only the weak and unfit creatures will fail to find food in the tough times and that saving the weak or ill wild things may actually allow unfit creatures to reproduce and weaken some species.

As mankind destroys natural habitat in the name of progress, of course, wild things must be tough and smart to adapt if they are to survive. Natural disasters such as droughts and extremely cold winters have occurred so many times that existing species have proven they can deal with such. But mankind's extra pressure on wild things means that mankind owes nature a helping hand.

With all that in mind, it seems reasonable to put out a bit of food appropriate for particular species. Nuts and grain are great for squirrels and deer. Mixed seed for assorted birds is commercially available.

It isn't difficult to find something to help the creatures we love. And I don't see anything wrong with feeding wild things in order to attract them into range of cameras and binoculars.

Of course, wild things may become dependent on human help at times, and that may cause problems.

Bears, for instance, can become nuisances or even dangerous if attracted to areas inhabited by people. Squirrels, raccoons and deer may cross busy roads and be killed if supplemental feeding is done in some places. Birds may get careless and fall prey to house cats if feeders are not carefully situated.

Obviously, a little caution is needed if supplemental feeding of wildlife is to have a good effect.

But that ought not to discourage people who want a chance to watch or photograph birds and animals from using food for bait. Baiting certain wildlife species, of course, is illegal during hunting season.

It is a violation of federal regulations to hunt waterfowl over bait. The rules are so complicated that even wildlife law-enforcement officers can't explain them clearly to the average person.

Once duck season and goose season end, there is nothing wrong with putting out a bit of grain to bring the birds close to viewing sites.

Keep in mind, of course, that attracting really large numbers of any species may result in the spread of disease and may tempt poachers to take an out-of-season shot.

In summary, wild things seldom need supplementary feeding except when snow or ice covers the ground for several days. Those who choose to feed wild things, even for their own selfish reasons, can help the animals at such times.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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