DEAR JOAN: I have a neighbor who is actively feeding the local wildlife, specifically raccoons. This occurs year round, a minimum of fives times daily.

My question is whether eating this much cat food is actually bad for the raccoons. Additionally, after generations have been accustomed to having been provided for so sufficiently, do they ever lose their ability to forage for themselves?

Can you please remind your readers of a few of the negative consequences of feeding local wildlife.

Concerned resident

Bay Area

Feeding wildlife sounds like a nice thing to do, but it actually puts them more at risk.
Feeding wildlife sounds like a nice thing to do, but it actually puts them more at risk. (Courtesy of Jerry McDaniel)

DEAR CONCERNED: I'm sure your neighbor thinks he or she is doing the raccoons a favor by providing for them. It's probably entertaining to see the raccoons and other wildlife up close and personal, but in practice feeding wildlife is a colossal error.

I'd be worried about what happens when your neighbor is no longer able to feed these creatures, except I doubt they will live long enough to find out.

A little cat food on occasion won't harm the raccoons, but a steady diet of it may prevent them from eating other foods and can lead to health problems. Cat food is for cats; dog food is for dogs. The formulas are based on dietary needs, and those are not the same for raccoons.


Advertisement

I don't think future generations of raccoons will lose the ability to forage food for themselves, but it will make this group overly reliant on the handouts. Worse than that, it will cause them to lose some of their fear of humans and become more aggressive, which can understandably freak some folks out.

Any time wildlife gets too close to people, it never ends well for the animals. The suburbs are a dangerous place for them, filled with cars, angry homeowners, poisons, traps, domesticated animals and misguided wildlife lovers. When we start providing food for them, they move in closer to us and not everyone is happy to have them in their backyards.

Nature is a system of checks and balances and when we step in, the balance gets thrown off. The best thing we can do is admire them from afar and stick to feeding our pets.

DEAR JOAN: The other day I was watching a family of quail in the backyard. They were happily pecking at whatever they peck at and suddenly the group froze.

They didn't move for at least five minutes.

I looked around for predators on the ground or a hawk, but I saw nothing. Never seen anything like it.

Scott Wheeler

Pleasant Hill

DEAR SCOTT: When I lived in New Mexico, the roadrunner was my favorite bird, but when I moved to California, quail quickly supplanted the roadrunner.

If the danger had been real, or if the quail had genuinely been frightened, they would have burst into a short flight or rapid run to safety.

In this case, I think they heard or saw something they were unsure of and froze in order to judge just how dangerous it was.

It might even have been the sight of you, no offense, that triggered the reaction. They obviously decided you weren't a threat and continued eating.

The quail's diet is 70 percent vegetarian, feeding primarily on seeds, but they like caterpillars and snails, too. They also like leaves, flowers, grains, berries, acorns and poison oak.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris and read the Animal Life blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/pets.