Waterfowl don’t need feeding

Text: Riho Kinks, www.eoy.ee
Translation: Liis
Each winter concerns about waterfowl that do not want to depart from here emerge. Without extra feeding by humans they will then starve. This mostly troubles inhabitants in cities and larger communities, and they should begin with taking a look in the mirror. So a few important rules to remember:
The waterfowl that are here in winter are migratory birds and in an natural environment they don’t need extra feeding.
•Feeding waterfowl, particularly in autumn, harms them rather than helps.
• If birds are in real danger, call the Environmental information services,  1313
Almost all birds that remain in winter in communities belong to just two species: mute swan and mallard. Both are breeders and passing migrants in Estonia, flying  southwards for the winter. Some birds stay here, foraging for food in shallow shore waters and open water bodies. When the water bodies freeze they look for seashores with open waters or fly further south. In natural conditions the waterfowl need have no fear of winter starvation. They remain only where people have been feeding them. The problem starts in autumn when the birds get used to food before the water bodies freeze.
Such actions reduce the migration instinct of birds and set a trap for both the birds and humans. Birds used to autumn-winter feeding do not even think of moving or solving food scarcity in the natural way, that is by moving to suitable feeding areas. In the large flocks diseases often spread, starved birds attract enemies (other birds, foxes, dogs etc) and they are an easy prey. Birds that are forced to spend the night on ice or ashore often freeze into the ice or perish from cold. Because the food brought by humans is first snatched by the strongest, most birds in such groups go hungry in the hope of a bit of food.
Man who has caused all this has not the resources to feed all the birds when the waters freeze, nor can he watch them starving. The government is then often accused of neglect or indifference. Moreover, birds are often fed with white bread which is not a natural food for them, does not contain the necessary vitamins and minerals and can cause serious health problems. In the zoo for instance waterfowl are fed a balanced diet with fresh lettuce, shredded vegetables etc. Thus feeding free-living waterfowl, particularly during the migration period, is short-sighted and irresponsible. If the birds are in real trouble specialists should be consulted.

Here a justified question arises – should feeding of passerines also be avoided? It is not entirely false, but we do not observe them starving and perishing as we do with large waterfowl. Here we have usually also to do with species naturally occurring here in winter and even in the harshest cold they find something for their beaks. But with them too a vital rule should be followed: once extra feeding has been started it must continue until spring.




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