CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is reminding residents to not feed wildlife through the winter, as it can sometimes do more harm than good.

As the cold temperatures approach, wild animals change their behavior to adapt to the weather and scarce food supplies. Feeding these animals may alter their behavior and can sometimes have a deadly effect.

Martin Feehan is the Deer and Moose Project Leader for MassWildlife. He said wild animals are pretty good at feeding themselves, even during the winter, and putting food out for them can be bad for their health, “For many animals, it can start to have long term impacts. Particularly in the winter when they get really dependent on a single food source, it makes their entire gut floor chance over.”

According to MassWildlife, unnatural feeding sites can:

  • Attract predators and increase the risk of death of the animals.
  • Spread disease among wildlife such as rumen acidosis in deer or aflatoxicosis in turkeys.
  • Cause aggression and competition over food.
  • Reduce fat reserves in the animal. Wildlife may use energy traveling to a feeding site that does not guarantee food.
  • Cause wildlife to cross dangerous roads more frequently.
  • Impact local vegetation negatively.

Once an animal’s behavior is changed, it can be very difficult to change. If you want to help wildlife near your home, consider improving the wildlife habitat around your property. Grow natural foods or cover for the animals.

Although bird feeding during the winter months is considered okay, MassWildlife recommends using native plants and water to attract birds to your yard. Bird seed can attract other wildlife, such as bears, turkeys, squirrels, foxes, and coyotes. If you see an increase in unwanted wildlife, you are advised to bring in your bird feeders.

“Wildlife can be wild. It’s important that they stay wild and you don’t need to supplement food. Make it where every time you see a wild animal that it’s special,” said Feehan.

If you do still want to see wildlife, without feeding animals, Martin recommends exploring the many Wildlife Management Areas across the state.