Deer in Spring Landscape

Feeding Wildlife: You May Be Doing More Harm Than Good!

Before offering wild animals a handout of food please consider the following:

Black & white illustration of 3 white-tailed deer standing in meadow by Wade Henry

Feeding wildlife may quickly cause problems.

Feeding a single wild animal can quickly lead to having many at your doorstep. Wild animals constantly search for food and many will find the easy food source you provide. Continually feeding many wild animals in the same place can harm the habitat, people, and the animals themselves.

Feeding wildlife may cause the spread of disease.

Most wildlife diseases are transferred from animal to animal. Because of their close contact, animals crowding at feeding sites can readily exchange diseases. More animals die from disease and disease-related ailments than from starvation. It’s also important to remember that wildlife can carry many diseases that readily spread to people, pets, and livestock. These diseases include rabies, Lyme disease, salmonellosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, distempers, and encephalitis. In addition, most wildlife species carry parasites that are also easily transferred. For example, raccoon round worms can be fatal to humans and scabies mites cause mange in pets.

Wild animals can be dangerous!

Animals that are fed by humans often lose their natural fear of people. Nearly any wild animal, no matter how timid, is capable of inflicting injury to humans, pets, and livestock.

Feeding leads to crowding and crowding causes stress.

In crowded situations, physical aggression among individual animals is common. At feeding sites, larger more aggressive individuals often exclude younger and weaker individuals. Aggressive behavior can lead to injuries and even death, particularly for vulnerable individuals.

Supplemental food sources do not contribute to a wildlife population’s well-being.

Wild animals need varied, natural foods as a part of their normal diet. Their digestive systems are adapted to extract energy from a variety of foods available throughout the seasons. Though wildlife may accept handouts from people, they will likely not get the balanced diet they need for good health. For example, deer have sensitive digestive systems that cannot readily adapt to supplemental food sources. In fact, winter starved deer have actually died with full stomachs because their digestive system was unable to process the supplemental food.

Black & White illustration of raccoon by Wade HenryAn overabundance of individuals can result in habitat degradation.

Any given habitat can only support a limited amount of wildlife. An overabundance of wild animals drawn to a feeding area can damage the local habitat for not only the animals being fed but others species as well. Habitat degradation significantly affects all wildlife species. Also, feeding deer may cause problems for your neighbors or adjacent landowners.

Feeding wild birds.

Even keeping a bird feeder has its difficulties. Although songbirds do not lose their instinctual fear of humans and the seeds provided are nutritionally beneficial, they are susceptible to diseases caused by dirty bird feeders. Feeders should be kept clean and can be disinfected with a mild bleach solution. The ground underneath the feeder should be raked to remove moldy grain and bird droppings because both can harbor disease.

Wild animals need habitat, not handouts.

Wild animals benefit from healthy habitat. To help wildlife species, practice sound habitat management in your own backyard and support programs dedicated to providing and protecting healthy wildlife habitat. The Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service can provide information and guidance to people interested in helping wildlife around their homes and in their communities.

Note: For an in-depth look at the problems associated with feeding wildlife read Feeding Wildlife…Just Say No! a Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) publication available through their website at

To report nuisance, injured or sick wildlife
(Monday - Friday, 8:00 am - 4:30 pm)
Call Toll-free in Maryland: 1-877-463-6497

For more information, please contact:

Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Wildlife and Heritage Service
Tawes State Office Building, E-1
Annapolis MD 21401
Toll-free in Maryland: 1-877-620-8DNR, Ext. 8540

Illustrations by Wade Henry