Don’t feed the animals

I don’t know a whole lot, but I know a lot of people who know something.

So when I received this question from Keepin’ Up With Karen follower Bernadette, who says she’s from a very rural part of Georgia, I knew exactly who to send it to — Robert Abernethy in the NWTF’s conservation department.

He’s like the Ask Jeeves of wildlife.

Here’s what transpired…

EMAIL FROM BERNADETTE TO ME —

Last spring I started throwing cracked corn behind my house. I had seen deer and wild turkeys a few times. I would toss some corn out every few days and was delighted to see the flock grow from four to 13.

Now the turkeys are coming to eat corn in the mornings and early evenings. So I’m tossing corn two times a day.

Bernadette's turkeys are about to go on a diet...

If they see me with the corn, they come running, and will come within 6 feet of me. They have become like yard chickens. They will not come if anyone else is outside, just me.

But, I’m concerned I may be hurting them in some way. I don’t want to create a dependence on the corn. I want them to still forage for their food. Perhaps they do that now when they’re off doing their thing during the day.

I am fascinated by the turkeys and their behavior, but I don’t want to do something that might hurt them. Any advice?

EMAIL FROM ME TO ROBERT —

Help.

EMAIL FROM ROBERT TO BERNADETTE (CC: ME) —

In general, it is never a good idea to feed wildlife. It unnaturally concentrates animals and can lead to disease transmission. Plus, it provides a small, localized site where predators will soon learn to hunt.

It also can become an attractant and food source for predators and cause an increase in predators such as raccoons. Raccoons are a significant nest predator on the wild turkey and increased ‘coon populations can lead to fewer turkeys. You may not have seen the coons, but they will find the corn left behind by the turkeys and get fatter every night.

As you have already discovered, feed can also tame the wild turkey. It has led to turkeys losing their fear of humans in the Northeast and California. When you combine this with aggressive gobblers in March and April, you can have turkeys that will jump on you, spur you and flail you with their wings. While not as dangerous as a semi-tame deer, bear or coyote, they will scare people and can become a nuisance.

We all love watching wildlife and feed brings them close, but a much better solution is establishing a food plot that provides food year round and spreads out over the landscape. Chufa is a great attractant, as well as brown-top millet and clover.

I hope this helps and have fun watching your turkeys.

I had a similar experience in my own backyard. A fluffy cat started lurking among our trees a few weeks ago. I had to fight the urge to run to the pet store and buy it cute little bowls and a food mat. I thought to myself, It’d be nice to have a mouse catcher around the house.

Then the voice of reason (in the baritone of my husband) sounded in my head: It won’t want to catch mice if it knows it’s going to get a belly full of Meow Mix every day.

Touché, CJ.

So, Bernadette, we both learned something from ol’ Robert and (sigh) my husband. It’s better to allow animals to help themselves instead of dishing handouts. Keep your feeding hands in your pockets but your elbows well greased.

However, I don’t think I’ll be planting a catnip plot anytime soon. You’re on your own, cat.

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