When don't feed the birds means please do, by Frania Shelley-Grielen
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. Tufted Docks with great hairdo’s. 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 ask 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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copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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