Feeding wildlife during winter does more harm than good

From Colorado Parks and Wildlife

By Joe Lewandowski

Even though temperatures are warming, for wildlife Colorado remains in the depths of winter; and despite the recent snow storms Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds citizens that big-game wildlife do not need our help. Feeding big game in Colorado is not only illegal but also does more harm than good.
Also, people should not approach big-game because it will force the animals to move unnecessarily and burn calories they can’t afford to lose.
“Native species are well adapted to survive the winter months on natural food sources,” said Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Montrose. “Feeding big game, especially deer, whether it’s hay, corn, dog food, or other livestock-type food, can kill them. Their digestive systems aren’t designed to handle these types of rich foods.”
Unfortunately, every year, some people decide to feed big game and every year big-game die as a consequence. CPW wildlife managers recently have received reports of dead deer in the San Luis Valley and Gunnison Basin. Wildlife officers examined the stomach contents of the some of the carcasses they found them to be full of corn, grain, bird seed, and other food that the deer couldn’t digest. The deer died with stomachs full of food that people had provided.
“People want to help. But the reality of it is that feeding doesn’t help wildlife, it harms them,” DelPiccolo said. “Winter is a tough time of year, and it has always been how nature eliminates the sick, the weak and less-fit animals from the population. It’s ironic, but the toughest time of the year is what makes wildlife populations healthy.”
Big-game often lose 30-40 percent of their body weight during the winter. Most are able to live off the fat they’ve stored from the summer and from some available forage they find during the winter. Big game are now running on empty, so don’t do anything that would make them move unnecessarily.
“Leaving them alone is the best way to help big game during the winter,” DelPiccolo said.
Feeding animals can cause other problems. When deer crowd around a food source they can transfer diseases or parasites from animal to animal. When animals bunch up they also become easy targets for predators, including mountain lions. Feeding big game can also draw them away from their natural habitats and disturb migration patterns. In some areas, deer that have been fed during the winter haven’t moved on as they should when spring arrives.
Feeding is not just a concern with big game. CPW also advises people to refrain from feeding small animals such as coyotes, foxes, squirrels, bobcats, rabbits, chipmunks or turkeys. These animals also aren’t equipped to eat human-provided food. And just like deer, animals can bunch up, draw in predators and create unnecessary conflicts.
Wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous to people who decide to get close to them. They can be particularly aggressive or defensive around food sources, during breeding seasons and when they have dependent young nearby.
“Winter in Colorado is often a great time to watch big game animals. They are more visible when they congregate on low-elevation, more open winter ranges,” explained DelPiccolo. “Please, observe them from a distance, keep your dog on a leash and don’t be tempted to offer any food.”
For more information about wildlife in Colorado, see
CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 41 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW’s work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button