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Is It Legal to Feed Wild Animals?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

When out in nature, you may feel the urge to feed any wild animals you might encounter.

However, as your legal guides through the forest of state and federal laws, we strongly encourage you to resist that temptation. Not only is this practice bad for the animals you feed, but your "kindness" by feeding wildlife can potentially lead to your arrest.

Here are some general rules about when it is and isn't legal to feed wild animals:

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Backyard Feeding

While the Humane Society of the United States cautions against feeding wild animals in just about every other capacity, feeding birds and squirrels in your own backyard is generally harmless. But that doesn't mean you can't get legally dinged for setting out a bird feeder.

Some cities or municipalities may have ordinances preventing bird feeders, while others can issue fines against owners whose feeders are not in compliance with the law. You aren't likely to be arrested for illegal bird or squirrel feeders, but you may be facing hundreds of dollars in fines.

Feeding Ducks, Waterfowl

Feeding ducks at the park may seem like an idyllic pastime, but it can actually be quite harmful to local ecosystems. For example, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation notes that feeding ducks and geese can spread disease and encourage overcrowding, but it's not necessarily illegal.

In rare cases, certain individuals have been criminally pursued for ignoring court orders not to feed ducks. But in general, you're probably in the clear to toss a few crumbs at the local waterfowl -- unless signs prohibit it.

Feeding Wild Animals

If you're not feeding backyard birds or ducks at the local pond, you may be breaking the law by feeding wild animals. Even those who have been maimed as a result of illegally feeding wild animals have been criminally charged. Case in point: A Florida man who lost his hand to an alligator while feeding it in 2012 was also charged with a misdemeanor for illegally feeding the predator.

Most states have laws prohibiting the feeding of wild animals, especially on public land. Federal law also prohibits feeding wildlife in federal parks.

Since it's not great for the wildlife, we suggest you lay off feeding wild animals. It might save you some legal trouble too.

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