Don’t feed the wildlife: you aren’t helping them—and may be breaking a new bylaw

People who leave food out for wildlife aren’t doing themselves, their neighbourhoods or even wildlife any good — and the city wants it to stop.

New regulations under Toronto’s Animals Bylaw come into effect April 1. They prohibit feeding wildlife on private and public properties across the city.

Bird feeders, kept properly clean, are okay. But food left for larger wildlife can lead to humans and animals crossing paths — and not always in a good way, Toronto Animal Services manager Jasmine Herzog-Evans told Streeter.

“We know there has been an increase in the number of negative interactions with people and wildlife in Toronto, specifically coyotes and foxes,” she said. “And it’s mainly caused by intentional feeding or the result of people leaving food out or unmaintained garbage.”

Increasing animals’ tolerance of people

Even cemeteries have become sites for the practice.

“It’s not ill-intentioned, it’s an offering,” Herzog-Evans said. “But it’s changing the natural behaviour of wildlife and it’s increasing their tolerance of people.”

Fallen fruit in backyards can also be a problem.

Not cleaning up under a fruit tree can attract smaller mammals and then the larger predators come in to feed on those small mammals, Herzog-Evans said.

feeding bread to ducks
POOR MEAL: Bread is not nutritional food for birds, warns Toronto Animal Services manager. (Adobe)

If you think feeding bread crumbs to birds and waterfowl is helping them, think again.

A lot of people throw pieces of bread that are actually not nutrient-dense, which “is like giving them junk food,” Herzog-Evans said.

“If you’re going to partake in such an activity, then make sure the food you’re providing is more appropriate,” she said.

Sometimes people think they’re being stalked if a coyote or fox trails them. Well, yes, they are being stalked. And again, thank food-throwers for that.

“More often than not, it’s because they’re so used to someone giving them a handout,” Herzog-Evans said. “They’re actually following you because they expect you to give them something.”

Violators to be reported and fined

Herzog-Evans said Parks Bylaw Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 608, has long prohibited the feeding of wildlife in city parks. What’s different under the new regulations is that feeding wildlife is prohibited everywhere in the city.

Enforcement comes under Chapter 349. Residents are being asked to report violators to 311. New fines will likely mirror current ones — $365.

Karen McDonald, manager of ecosystem management at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), echoed a lot of what Herzog-Evans said about feeding wildlife, especially how it harms animals.

“If you feed deer through the winter with good food, say grains or vegetables, what can happen is they can become either super successful in their reproduction meaning we have a lot more deer on the landscape and not as many predators to balance that out, or if fed the wrong food it can disrupt their gut bacteria metabolism and end up hurting the animal,” McDonald said.

It’s good to keep in mind what an instructor told her when she was studying fish and wildlife in school: “fed is dead.”

The TRCA doesn’t have fines. It leaves that to local municipal governments. Nevertheless, when conservation officers find food left out they have to cart it off, taking them away from other duties.

Risk of disease

McDonald also warned about pathogenic bird flu.

“When people feed birds, especially waterfowl, they tend to all congregate close together and that makes the risk of disease transfer even higher,” she said.

Norway rats are another problem.

“They’re really problematic in our urban areas and they take advantage of every little scrap of food that’s left out,” McDonald said.

The city plans to run an education campaign about the new regulations on web pages, public transit, social media and in libraries and news publications.

“We want to respect our wildlife,” Herzog-Evans said. “We advocate for peaceful and respectful co-existence and part of that is letting wildlife remain wild and not treating them as pets.”