When the signs
say "don't feed
the birds" and
the birds say
"please do"
Feeding urban wildlife: when the signs say "don't feed" and the
birds say "please do"
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved

I am just back from London where I got to visit with royal urban wildlife in St. James
Park.  Just across the road from Buckingham Palace, St. James Park has one of the
larger collections of exotic waterfowl in London (The Regent’s Park also shares this
status).  Traveling means being away from the animals I live with and seeing folks
with puppies and dogs can definitely induce pet deprivation.  But consolation and
wonder can be found in the interacting with urban wildlife.  City birds and squirrels
that do well around people do more than tolerate us they thrive on being comfortable
enough around us to identify and depend on us as a supplemental and sometimes
necessary food source.  And oh, how the animal lover in us is available for the
experience.

The urban wildlife in St. James Park appears accustomed and dependent on a diet that
is foraged in a good part from human handouts in addition to whatever else is on offer
in their natural environment.  Sleek and well-nourished squirrels were actively at
work burying treasures from passerby’s.  And the birds!  In addition to the ubiquitous
pigeons and gulls there were waterfowl here that this New Yorker had not seen –
Moorhens with their scarlet bills and coots with white bills and foreheads and both
sporting long and fleshy toes-the better to navigate both swimming and watersides.  
Mandarin ducks with exotic plumage who have escaped captivity and decided that
southern England suits them just fine.  There are Tufted Docks with their great
hairdos.   And the graylag geese- true British birds- being the only species of grey goose
to breed in the UK.  
The Royal Parks Organization who is in charge of the parks asks that
people not feed the herons, crows, pigeons and geese in the park.  The organization
points out that feeding impacts on population which needs to be controlled (read culled)
and that the grounds and water quality are impacted.  Royal Parks also wisely gives
advice on what to feed for those of us determined to ignore that advice: No white bread
or moldy food.  No cheese or meat and no cooked food aside from rice, lentils, barley and
split peas which are not good for birds when given raw.  If you must give bread which is
not the best diet for birds you are advised to make it whole wheat or wholemeal as they
say in London.  Bird seed is good as are duck pellets.  And for the swans-they love
lettuce.  Good to know.

Here, as in most urban waterfront settings there are people who feed waterfowl as a
pastime, an entertainment or to simply get close to them. But in St. James Park there
is the added appeal of how some of the birds have learned to get close to us.  Greylag
geese line the walkways of the park and actively solicit pedestrians with a soft and
direct gaze.  Quietly engaged, they survey the passing humans for interest and respond
gently to anticipatory movements of forthcoming food offerings.  I am instantly in love
with these geese and I am not alone. The remarkable demeanor of those British geese is
more than entrancing.   These wonderful birds are apparently cherished by locals and
tourists alike.  There is nothing hurried or frantic in the birds’ movement.  There is no
rushed grasping and retreating distrustfully.  Rather a calm and stately procession of
birds watching for people they have learned to trust will feed them gently.

This method seems to be of benefit for both the human looking for the interaction with
the animals and the animals themselves.  Take a closer look at the geese in St. James
Park who work the crowd. Compared to other feeding interactions one can see where
the human is hesitant, afraid and rushed in the giving of the food and the animal
learns and responds in kind.  It is lovely to see this in this place the behavior of the
geese and the humans are gentle, measured, sure and trusting.  This kind of trust can
only come from a history of gentle interactions because this is learned behavior for
both species.
 
People feed urban wildlife for whatever the connection brings to them -whether it is the
dynamic of the association and the relating to these other species in a shared moment
of positive interchange.  Or that we can experience each other in an affiliative
capacity.  We have at least for the moments of shared time and space, a relationship
with each other of connecting in harmony.

(For those cautions and admonitions of not feeding urban wildlife in existing conditions
such as those in St. James Park this must be done over time and very carefully so as
not to undermine the welfare of the animals and with the understanding that this may
not be possible in an urban environment without full cooperation from all participants
in the process.)
"People feed urban wildlife for
whatever the connection brings to
them -whether it is the dynamic of
the association and the relating to
these other species in a shared
moment of positive interchange.  Or
that we can experience each other in
an affiliative capacity.  We have at
least for the moments of shared time
and space, a relationship with each
other of connecting in harmony. "
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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