"don't feed the
birds" and the
Feeding urban wildlife: when the signs say "don't feed" and the
birds say "please do"copyright (c) 2021 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 –Moor hens 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.)
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|"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
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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