Hand Feeding Wild Birds

These are comments made on this issue from experts in the field.


Posted by Keith Kridler in the Bluebird Monitors Yahoo Page

Scotty Scott lived on an old family farm and hand trained dozens of species of birds to come to him and search for food that he hid in his clothes. He fed upwards of 200 pounds of pecans each year by hand to these birds.....His nieces and nephews sold the family farm and he had to move a couple of miles away....The farm was turned into a lakeside expensive resort, what do you supposed happened to these birds when they came begging the construction workers and the new landowners for food! I was able to stand within a few feet of Scotty and get these and MANY more photos.

One of the questions I once asked school children during bluebird programs was for all of the children that had "shot & killed" a bluebird to raise their hands. In almost EVERY group or classroom there were multiple children OR TEACHERS that had shot a bluebird at one point in their life. One boy told how "Stupid" bluebirds were and that he could often walk right up to them with a pellet gun. The other species of birds would fly away but the bluebirds would let him walk right up under the tree they were perched in so that he could shoot them....

The part about the Tom turkey thinking his foster parent was another Tom and attacking him only shows that he had absolutely no fear of a human and probably would walk right up to the first turkey hunter that he encountered when turkey season rolled around....

One of my in laws, sister was feeding upwards of 100 pounds of dog and cat food a WEEK to raccoons, skunks, possums, squirrels ETC. She recently passed away. She lived on a "city street" at the edge of town. Within a week all up and down that street these animals began ripping off window screens, pulling on storm doors. (She had "trained" them to pull open her back door that did not latch well as she left bowls of food in her kitchen for her pet coons.) She also allowed skunks to use the pet door and eat in her kitchen.

This ended up being tragic for all involved....You NEVER know how your
neighbors will react to the wildlife you help condition to thinking that we
humans are a food provider!


Keith Kridler

Posted by Tina Mitchell in the Bluebird Monitors Yahoo Page

Neil wrote:

"And what is the normal response for even a nice person when a buzzing fly gets in their face? You got it; the reflex action is to swat it away."

 (This was in reference to people training wild hummingbirds to sip nectar from a container in their mouth. When this same bird approaches another human what happens?)

We have hard evidence of this every year at the wildlife rehab center. I can't remember a summer when we didn't get at least 1 bird--usually in our area, Black-capped Chickadees are the victim species--that someone had tamed to come for food and that a person unfamiliar with the bird (or just plain afraid of birds) reflexively swatted away and into a window, to the ground, or wherever. When those birds come in, not only do we have to deal with whatever injuries they sustained but we also have to extinguish that approach behavior before we can release them--as far away from that responsible party's home as we legally can. Without any scientific data to back up this next statement, it seems to me to take much longer to extinguish a bird's tendency to approach a human once it has learned this than it is to "wean" a hand-raised bird from expecting humans to provide food. In that latter case, a large portion of learning to avoid humans seems to be almost instinctive as the nestling matures, needing only a little help when in captivity (see below). When a human has overridden that natural propensity, though, it can be very, very difficult to get the bird back to a normal level of wildness.

Training a thrush to come for mealworms when you whistle isn't the same thing as teaching a chickadee to perch on your cap brim for seed--at least for many on this forum. But for others, that is a distinction without a difference. I know this because I talk to these people who have tamed these chickadees. So I tend to be hyper-vigilant about pointing out that any taming can be a problem for a bird. I doubt I change many people's behavior, but at least I do my tiny part to try. As I said before, any such training is purely for the human's pleasure and, in my opinion, is not in the best interest of the bird.

I will step off my soap box, at least for now.

And here is some interesting information about how rehabbers "wild."

Neil also asked:

"Also I'm curious as to the point below of "wilding" the birds that are being rehabbed. What is the procedure to do this?"

Rehabbers and rehab centers have different protocols for this, but I can share the one we follow at the center I work with. It's primarily common sense--nothing fancy. We feed hatchlings and nestlings formula via a syringe (no needle, of course). As they mature, we move them to larger cages with food they will eat as adults available, while we continue to offer them syringes of formula, albeit less and less frequently. Pretty much on their own, they ease themselves away from formula and toward the naturally occurring foods. However, they often still approach the cage door when a human hand appears to change out the food or clean the cage or whatever. Once they are completely self-feeding and still gaining weight, they move to large outdoor aviaries, where they practice flying and finding food in places and ways that imitate a more natural environment. In those aviaries, humans enter at least twice a day for checking their status, replacing foods and water, and cleaning. If a bird approaches you when you're in the aviary, you first check to make sure it doesn't seem to be injured or sick. If there's nothing clearly wrong, you make loud noises, wave your arms, stomp around--anything to make the bird fly away. For most young birds, it doesn't take long for them to stop approaching. Our work then is done and we start arranging the release. Ain't nothin' better than releasing a rehabbed wild animal in a good habitat and watching it race away from you and into the next chapter of its life. No telling what happens after that, but we've given it the best shot we can.



Thanks to Tina Mitchell and Keith Kridler for permission to reprint these messages.


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