Lulu and I like walking and hiking. She loves the boardwalk on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay. As the boardwalk ends, she runs on the rocks and the path around The Rock, the beach, and around the tourists, fisherman, and kids. Occasionally, she plays with other dogs. Sometimes, she tries to bum a scratch from a stranger. Other times, she chases the seagulls and runs after the squirrels. We watch the otters, enjoy the morning sun or fog, depending on the day. What we don’t like is humans feeding the wildlife. There seems to be a lot of that lately. We see people sharing their Doritos, crackers, candy bars, and all sorts of other human junk food with the bay’s wild inhabitants.
What’s the big deal, you ask. It’s cute to get a picture with a squirrel eating a cliff bar off of your hand. It’s fun to watch the seagulls trying to snatch a chip off of a squirrel. Sure it is. Except that it isn’t. It’s never OK to feed the wildlife. Especially, not OK to feed them human junk food. And here’s why.
First of all, animals and birds are suppose to forage and hunt for their food. That’s how they stay a viable part of the natural order of things and preserve the delicate balance of the food chain. Kind of like humans going to work to make money to buy food, to cook it at home, or to go eat out. If you feed them right there where they live, it would be like someone, or more accurately, lots of someones, bringing you junk food all day long right to your couch. The only time you need to get up is to go to the bathroom, or to sleep, although technically if you are a squirrel, you could do it all in the same place…
If you keep feeding the squirrels and the seagulls human junk food, they will get lazy, fat, and diabetic. With the abundant food supply, squirrels will multiply a lot more and their population will soon become a problem as they dig more holes to live in and erode our beautiful bay. The more squirrels, the more squirrel poop. When it rains, it all goes into the water, which I am sure the fish and seagrass do not appreciate, not to mention the people who eat the fish, who swim in squirrel poop…
Meanwhile, the seagulls who we all know are addicted to french fries already, become bolder and braver and willing to snatch the sandwich right out of your hand and just as you open your mouth to take a bite. They poop too. They poop on top of your car and on all the benches where they chill and wait for a tourist hand out. They poop from the street lights, rooftops, and on your head as they fly over. Every morning they go pulling the trash out of trash cans making a mess scavenging for leftovers before the humans get down to the bay with the daily smorgasbord of easy delights. Yes, they do!
In addition, neither birds nor squirrels have the kind of digestive system made to appreciate simple carbs, cheese, additives, and preservatives. How do you know if a squirrel has a tummy ache? You don’t. You do know what a bird diarrhea looks like on your picknick table. Just like your teeth go bad from too much sugar, so do squirrels’ teeth, but no dentist in town is willing to see them. Birds don’t have teeth but lack of proper nutrition will affect their eyesight and the health of their feathers. Did you think of this when you were feeding them cheese crackers and protein bars?
Meanwhile, the things that need to be eaten by birds and squirrels go uneaten and the balance of living food items in the food chain go proliferating and causing problems on their own. Ground squirrels are primarily herbivorous, and their diet changes with the season. After emerging from hibernation, they feed almost exclusively on green grasses and herbaceous plants. When annual plants begin to dry and produce seed, squirrels switch to seeds, grains, and nuts and begin to store food for the winter. They forage close to their burrows and learn to live with what they’ve got.
Seagulls should eat fish and marine and freshwater invertebrates, both alive and already dead, insects and earthworms, rodents, eggs, carrion, offal, reptiles, amphibians, plant items such as seeds and fruit, and even other birds, hopefully, dead ones…
Did you know that ground squirrels can harbor diseases harmful to humans, particularly when squirrel populations are numerous? A major concern is a bubonic plague transmitted to humans by fleas that the squirrels carry. Ground squirrels are susceptible to plague, which has wiped out entire colonies. So, don’t go touching a dead squirrel. Let the seagulls eat them. They clearly are not picky eaters. However, seagulls have been found responsible for E-coli contamination as well as carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It is best not to handle the birds or come in direct contact with them.
Knowing all this, Lulu and I slowly are becoming known as the “crazy lady with the cute dog” who pester wildlife feeding tourists and locals alike by making them very uncomfortable as we give them a stink eye and a lecture. Consider yourself warned!
I am considering making a sheriff’s outfit for Lulu and giving her a little badge. I’ll carry a megaphone so I can scold people extra loudly and extra embarrassingly.
Spread the word and don’t feed the wildlife on the bay!