Wildlife Adapt as Park Opens to Capacity
Angel Wing; or a deterioration of the wrist joints in the wings is quite evident in the Trumpeter Swan on the left – a result of humans interrupting the lives of wildlife by offering human food.
By Jim Sanderson
As recently reported in The Monitor, activities in Bluffer’s park are pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels with restaurants, yacht clubs, park paths and beaches drawing record crowds on summer weekends and even weekdays – especially the sunny ones. Predictably, this renewed activity is having an impact on the landscape of the park and its inhabitants. During the Lockdown, observant visitors noticed increased wildlife sounds and sightings and the absence of human activities and car engine and boat noises.
While most people interact with park wildlife in kind and respectful ways, some of our activities with them are misguided and not as beneficial as we think. One of these is the feeding of aquatic wildfowl with human snacks like popcorn, bread chunks, crackers, and potato chips. This is an easy goof to make. As a child on Toronto Island and along the shores of Balmy Beach I often engaged in this happy activity with my parents and siblings, delighted to see eager birds scoot across the water and gobble our floating crusts with gusto. However, our knowledge of the world changes and grows, and these days it is well established that human intervention in the food supplies of animals is almost never a good idea. It causes dependence, overfamiliarity, disturbs migration, and in some cases can be fatal.
Regular Bluffer’s Park visitor and keen wildlife observer Judy Wilson told me that one notable negative effect of humans feeding wildlife is the appearance of “Angel Wing” in Trumpeter swans. These large birds – the largest swans in the world – are a celebrated comeback story in Ontario, having been hunted to extinction in 1886 and reintroduced from Alaska by the renowned naturalist Harry Lumsden in 1982. Over the years the birds have multiplied, until today there are more than 1000 in the province. Though successful, this population growth has been set back by deaths from fishing line and lures, plastic bags, lead shot, and collisions with power lines. Today, in Bluffers Park and other areas, the threat to Swans and other waterfowl continues with the consumption of human food, especially bread. Quite different from the natural food aquatic birds need, bread has almost no nutritional value and has been linked to severe deteriorations of the wrist joints in their wings (Angel Wing). This permanent disability means the animal cannot fly and will almost certainly suffer an untimely death. It is one more harmful result of humans feeding, or otherwise interrupting, the lives of wildlife. Coyotes, geese, deer, seagulls, raccoons, ducks, and other fauna are all better off when left to their own diets and ways. So please, as the TRC signs recommend, don’t feed the coyotes or birds! If more of us can manage to support their delicate web of life, as First Nations peoples have for thousands of years, perhaps we can provide the wild animals in our parks and open spaces, as well as ourselves, a healthy and sustainable future
Jim Sanderson is the author of “Life in Balmy Beach”, and “Toronto Island Summers”,now on sale at Cliffside Village Books, 2404 Kingston Road, 647-827-9199