Mackenthun: Feeding animals causes more problems than it solves – Mankato Free Press

Foggy this evening, then partly cloudy after midnight. Areas of freezing fog. Low near 10F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph..
Foggy this evening, then partly cloudy after midnight. Areas of freezing fog. Low near 10F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.
Updated: January 22, 2023 @ 4:11 pm
Feeding upland birds and deer, despite the best of intentions, can pull animals long distances out of winter cover, making them more vulnerable to exposure to the elements and to their predators.
Feeding upland birds and deer, despite the best of intentions, can pull animals long distances out of winter cover, making them more vulnerable to exposure to the elements and to their predators.

Feeding upland birds and deer, despite the best of intentions, can pull animals long distances out of winter cover, making them more vulnerable to exposure to the elements and to their predators.
Feeding upland birds and deer, despite the best of intentions, can pull animals long distances out of winter cover, making them more vulnerable to exposure to the elements and to their predators.
It’s been a wild winter, starting the season with bitter cold right around the holidays, then flipping to warmer temperatures in January, accompanied by heavy snowfalls.
The pileup of snow and a crust of ice from freezing rain has a lot of people concerned about the weather’s effect on wildlife. There is a tendency for people to want to help by feeding pheasants and deer, but the path to ruination is often paved with good intentions.
I spoke this week with Jared Wiklund, Public Relations Manager with Pheasants Forever. Wiklund has been getting a lot of phone calls about winter feeding.
Pheasants Forever and state Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers have long agreed and dispensed their professional advice: Don’t feed wildlife!
Wiklund explained a few of the negative consequences of feeding during the winter.
Feeding pulls birds out of thermal cover. The birds get pulled to and from the spots that will save them to places that put them at risk and in harm’s way. Traveling those distances to farmyards, homes or roadsides puts wildlife at risk for exposure in bad weather.
For predators, it makes their prey much more predictable and exposes a vulnerability those predators can easily exploit.
Have you noticed the price of a carton of eggs? The impacts of Avian influenza have hit consumers in the wallet, particularly those who enjoy a good omelet.
Waterfowl hunters have seen Avian influenza evidenced in localized pockets, where infected birds appear weak, sick or dead, and sadly have stupefied appearances as they wilt to their slow deaths.
Wiklund says feeding wildlife concentrates those birds, creating an easy avenue for disease transmission over a bait pile.
In Minnesota, there are locations where feeding wildlife is strictly prohibited, because of the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease for white-tailed deer.
These feeding bans are designed to prevent concentration of deer where disease transmission is more likely.
A feeding ban means don’t feed any wildlife, even if the target is recreational feeding of deer. It applies to upland birds as well.
Wiklund recently spoke with a snowplow driver in southwest Minnesota. He reported that people have been pouring corn on the roads along his 30-mile route.
As a result, he’s hitting a fair amount of birds while plowing and covering the feed with slush that freezes on, making the birds have to pick at it and keeping them concentrated on the roadway where collusions with vehicles are more likely.
“Putting out cracked corn is not going to save pheasants, especially putting it on the side of the road,” Wiklund said. “Pheasants Forever does not recommend supplemental feeding. Food and cover plots are a strategy we recommend to help wildlife through winter, but those have to be designed ahead of time and provide adequate size and spacing for pheasants and wildlife to overwinter.”
Wiklund said that it is extremely rare for birds to die of starvation, but exposure and freezing from inclement weather can be a real threat to survival.
In biologist Ken Solomon’s “A Year in the Life of a Pheasant,” he reported that a rooster ring-necked pheasant can survive without any available food for 19 days and for a hen, 16 days.
Pheasants have already made it through some tough conditions. The best things people can do is let them do what they do best and survive.
Planning to help wildlife survive harsh winters begins many years in advance, and is aided by some professional consultation.
Next month is a fantastic opportunity for landowners to get professional assistance with their habitat questions.
The National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic is coming to the Minneapolis Convention Center on Feb. 17-19.
“If you’re going to address overwinter survival on private property, put the kitchen next to the bedroom,” Wiklund said. “Make sure that birds don’t have to travel long distances between roosting and foraging habitat. Come to Pheasant Fest, you can plan food and cover plots with a professional biologist and utilize free conservation planning tools.
“It can take a while to establish winter habitat, particularly woody cover. Plant evergreens, native shrubs like dogwoods, or stiff-stemmed grasses in deep rows. Make those winter plots three to 10 acres so they are large enough to meet the needs of wildlife. When you look at all the wind and snow we get in the Midwest, those spaces can fill right up. You need enough room to help, otherwise you create a predator trap if you can’t stop snow and still have room for wildlife.”
Wiklund recommended that folks interested in private property land management attend the Landowner Workshop on Friday, Feb. 17, at 9 a.m. Several different partners are hosting the event, it’s free, comes with a lunch, and the experts on hand will answer any questions people have about property management, such as how do I get more wildlife on my property, how can I get a renter to listen to what I want to do with conservation on the property, why does soil health matter, or any other topic or question of interest.
This workshop will feature landowners who have done habitat work, farm their property for wildlife benefits, have experience in government conservation programs and have experience with conservation and farming land rents.
You can sign up for the workshop at pheasantfest.org.
Scott Mackenthun has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. Email him at scott.mackenthun@gmail.com.

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