Compassionate Feeding of Wildlife is NOT Conservation
The trend of feeding wild birds is extremely worrying and unscientific, especially so for the pigeons in cities. People mostly do this for religious reasons thinking that by feeding pigeons they are helping the ‘poor’ and ‘hungry’ birds and perhaps this helps in washing away their sins! Grains are purchased and scattered literally in heaps for the pigeons to feed. People who indulge in this activity are doing more harm to these birds than helping them. Such artificial feeding leads to overpopulation of pigeons that is much beyond the carrying capacity of a place. This leads to several health hazards in humans as well as pigeons. Doctors and veterinarians have often expressed concerns over this issue, and advise to refrain from feeding pigeons. As it is city buildings offer enough nesting places for pigeons, and with plenty of food available at Kabutarkhanas and practically no predation by predatory birds, the population of pigeons in cities has grown exponentially. By feeding pigeons, we are not helping them survive. They would anyways survive as do other wild birds. By providing them with ready food, pigeons lose their natural ability to scavenge and survive on their own. Pigeon overpopulation leads to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and produces sick and injured birds.
Keeping leftover food in the balcony for ‘hungry’ birds should also be discouraged. Birds quickly get used to our food, which obviously is NOT their natural food. Then why should we interfere with their routine of scavenging for food? Scavenging for food is an important exercise for wild birds that they must indulge in. Instances of obesity in wild birds are not uncommon today! Such ‘compassionate’ feeding may surely attract birds close to you but may result in nutritional deficiencies in birds. Veterinarians warn that such bird feeders may act as a nodal point of disease spread to other species of birds for emerging diseases of infectious nature. Also, birds not feeding naturally might affect the ecological food chain as they may not eat that fruit which only germinates when it passes through the bird’s intestine! Our ignorance in these matters can have serious consequences that we may not be even aware of.
People should connect with nature. However, sadly, many times this connect with wildlife becomes entertainment for these people as well as the onlookers. It has even become business for those who sell the ‘food’ items. Not to mention over enthusiastic and unethical wildlife photographers, who encourage this behaviour. Tourists visiting wildlife destinations such as Ranthambhor are often seen feeding Tree Pies, babblers, bulbuls for fun, entertainment and photo opportunities! This is NOT responsible tourism and must be stopped by the local tourism stakeholders. I have often seen people pouring wheat flour at the base of trees in Aarey Colony in Mumbai supposedly to feed the ‘hungry’ ants! Monkeys have become rogue and a menace in almost all popular tourist destinations only because of people feeding them with all kinds of food stuffs.
So people, please DO NOT FEED wild birds and animals unless under extraordinary circumstances such drought, floods or birds under treatment.
Director, The Corbett Foundation
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Corbett Foundation.