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 –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.)
"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. "
People feed urban wildlife for whatever the connection brings to them
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Schedule a presentation
Greylag geese in St James Park welcome human interaction
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
info@animalbehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

Entire website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen

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