When I was a child, my mom would occasionally take my sister and I to a local park that hosted numerous barnyard animals during the summer. We’d often bring stale bread and other treats with us and would often buy the grain sold onsite to feed the different animals. Being able to be around all sorts of animals was always so much fun but it wasn’t until much later that I realized how bad feeding bread was to animals like ducks and geese, as these animals aren’t always able to digest bread. (Other animals like the chickens and pigs that were also at the park could eat bread just fine, as long as it isn’t moldy.)

Feeding treats to wildlife and other animals can be a really fun activity, as long as you have the right kinds of treats! But depending on who you ask, doing so can either be a great way to interact with wild animals or a way to enforce bad behaviors into animals. However, if you do decide to feed wild animals, there are some things to keep in mind.

For one, don’t feed animals moldy food and instead, have food that will be nutritionally beneficial to the animal. Like us, animals can easily get sick off of moldy food and not all kinds of food will be good for them. Bread, for example, is a popular food to give to ducks and geese but any type of bread is actually pretty bad for many types of wild birds. It offers no nutrition and in some cases, can be a contributing factor to wing deformities in ducks.

Additionally, any leftover bread can cause a variety of issues. It could get moldy, which would not only make ducks and other riparian animals sick but it would also contribute to the growth of harmful bacteria and algal blooms. (Chickens, on the other hand, love bread and pasta and are able to safely eat these treats!)

If you do want to feed the ducks and geese at your local park, there are some good foods you can bring! I’d recommend bring lettuce, cabbage, corn, broccoli, or cucumber. There are so many other foods that are on the ‘safe food’ list so for more ideas, check here. And one type of food that you can feed to birds, despite the urban legends, is rice! There is a common myth that states rice is actually bad for birds because it causes the birds’ stomachs to swell. This is false and many birds are able to safely eat the grain.

While it can be fun to feed ducks and geese, I can’t recommend feeding other types of wild animals in any kind of setting. For one thing, getting that close to many kinds wildlife can be iffy, as not all wild animals are friendly to humans. And if you’re in a more urban setting, feeding wild animals like deer and raccoons can bring a wild range of problems for you and your neighbors.

One reason to not feed wildlife, especially in neighborhoods, is that not all animals are able to differentiate between humans and they might start harassing random strangers for food. The New York state’s department of environmental conservation has a long list of reasons not to feed wildlife, including the fact that doing so may cause malnutrition and can promote the spread of disease in the populations.

It’s exactly because of those problems that the city council in Bellingham, Washington recently decided to pass an ordinance banning the feeding of deer. Bellingham is a relatively low density urban town that’s surrounded by parks and there are deer around the city all the time. Some residents in the city have been feeding these animals, much to the annoyance and determinant to neighborhoods. The intention behind this ordinance (and similar ordinances in other cities) isn’t to starve the wildlife but instead, to stop the intentional feeding that’s actually not that great for the animals.

There are so many other ways to get up close and personal to different types of animals around the Pacific Northwest that’s safe for you and the animals. The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, for example, has several programs that are more hands on with different animals and the Pacific Science Center has a tropical butterfly house.

There’s also the Marine Life Center in Bellingham, WA, which has a touch tank in their educational facility for folks of all ages to experience! Plus, during the summer, Hovander Park just outside Ferndale, Washington is a great place to go as well. If you’d like to have more experiences with wildlife and other kinds of animals, there are places like the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, Washington and Northwest Trek in Eatonville, Washington.

Furthermore, there are many other ways to help wildlife in the Pacific Northwest thrive without endangering yourself or the wildlife. One idea would be to have native plants in your yard (if you have one) or help your city’s parks and rec department (or another organization) remove invasive species and plant native species instead. Another would be to put a bell on any cat that spends time outside to warn wildlife or consider having your cat be an indoor only cat.

Ultimately, there are so many ways to safely interact with numerous kinds of animals. Feeding wildlife can be a really fun activity but can also have many negative consequences both for the animals and for the people. If you want to have more experiences with animals, the best course of action would be to go to places like a zoo or some place like the Marine Life Center. And if you come across wildlife while out in the world, the best course of action would be to admire from a distance. Wild animals are able to care for and feed themselves without human interaction.

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