If you are feeding wild animals, your kindness may be harming or even killing them but also breaking the law. At the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), animals, most recently brown pelicans, are often admitted because of harm encountered as a result of their scavenging for handouts from well-meaning nature lovers.
Ninety brown pelicans have been admitted to the wildlife hospital on Sanibel thus far this year. In comparison, only 93 brown pelicans were admitted for the entire year in 2019. Many of the injuries currently being seen at the hospital are preventable and often the result of being fed by humans. Recent reasons for admission include two separate instances of a large fish carcass being stuck in the pelican’s throat and several others entangled with fishing hooks and monofilament line.
Pelicans typically feed on small schools of fish that form near the surface of the water—including menhaden, mullet, anchovies, herring, and sailfin mollies. But pelicans and other seabirds will feed on the remains or carcasses of a fisherman’s catch that are tossed in the water, which can lead to injury or death. Unfortunately, these fish carcasses are often larger than their normal diet, and the larger bones and spines can puncture the bird’s throat or digestive tract.
When pelicans are fed near fishing docks, marinas or cleaning stations, they congregate in large numbers looking for an easy meal. This change in behavior of ‘begging’ or ‘scavenging’ for scraps rather than hunting their normal prey items, brings them to areas where they are more likely to become entangled in fishing line or be accidentally hooked by a fisherman.
“While we know everyone has the best intentions for our local wildlife,” says Alison Charney Hussey, Executive Director for CROW, “in the end, throwing fish scraps to the pelicans does them more harm than good and is also illegal in Florida.”
According to Florida Administrative Code 68A-4.001, intentionally feeding or placing food that attracts pelicans and modifies the natural behavior in a way that is detrimental to the survival or health of a local population is prohibited by law.
“Please dispose of fish remains in a lidded trashcan rather than feeding the birds,” says Hussey. “And visit www.MindYourLine.org to learn what to do if you accidently hook a bird with your fishing line.”
If you see an animal that is in need of help, please call us at CROW’s Wildlife Hospital at (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.