Public warned against common act causing Aussie wildlife to die 'slow, painful death'

Experts have long warned Aussies against feeding wild animals, which can cause severe health issues in the long run.

A magpie is seen with a deformed beak, which some theorised was due to a calcium deficiency that resulted form being fed bread.
A concerned wildlife advocate has urged Aussies not to feed native birds after images emerged of a magpie with a severely deformed beak. Source: Reddit

Australians are again being urged to never interfere with our native wildlife unnecessarily, after "graphic" pictures emerged of a magpie missing half of its beak. The "terrible" photos appeared online on Friday, showing the magpie, a protected species, with a badly damaged beak, that some at first theorised was due to people feeding it human food.

Experts say it's a common misconception that wildlife benefit from being fed by humans, and in fact the reality is quite the opposite. When it comes to birds in particular, people often like to feed them bread and mince, which the animals on face value sometimes appear to enjoy, but will lead to extreme health issues, particularly among fledglings, down the line.

Adult birds will feed their young food given to them by people, which results in chicks "lacking calcium, growing up with rubbery beaks, floppy legs, and deformed feathers". Most of the time, these birds will die a "slow and painful death".

When it comes to the magpie in the images, Dr Tania Bishop, wildlife vet with WIRES, told Yahoo News Australia that it's unlikely it was the case here though, as chicks with deformed beaks are unlikely to survive into adulthood. She said it's possible the magpie was harmed by a human, though wasn't able to tell definitively.

A fledgling that's suffering from issues stemming from being fed inadequate food.
Feeding wild magpies can lead to issues among their chicks, which aren't properly equipped to digest human food. Source: Facebook/Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

While people might have good intentions when it comes to feeding animals, Bishop added, it's important to remember their diets aren't the same as ours, and feeding them will result in the animals returning to people in future, which can lead to a whole host of issues.

"People really do want that connection with birds," she told Yahoo News Australia. "They love feeding birds. So I find it's really hard to talk to people about the fact it's not good to feed them.

"The main reason I like to tell people is, you might be friendly, but how do you know the next human that bird goes to is going to be as friendly as you?

"They could be going back and feeding their chicks with this food. And that's how we get these deformities, especially when we have these dry spells where food's quite limited, you get a spike in numbers of fledglings that have got this metabolic bone disease."

Bishop said the bird in question could've injured itself in any number of ways.

"I can't say for sure that's something a human's done maliciously," she said. "It could be trauma, it could have hit something and it's been fractured and then gradually either gotten infected or fell off. It could be malicious."

She said the overarching message to the public is not to feed our animals in the vast majority of circumstances, but if people absolutely have to, try and incorporate food found naturally in their diets.

"Ideally, don't feed them," she said. "Because the reason a lot of wildlife vets are concerned is because it leads to cruelty events. And all of us, unfortunately, have seen things where birds that trust humans are the victim of of cruelty.

"But if they really do need to feed birds, they could at least mix in some insectivore mix that's got the vitamins and minerals in it."

Bishop said that "lucky" birds with injured or deformed beaks will be humanely euthanised if handed into vets, but "the sad reality" is that most will die, sometimes painfully and slowly, as a result of their injuries.

Online, one concerned Aussie said "if you do this [feed birds] you are causing suffering," they wrote beside the images. "She will have a slow death as she can no longer use her beak properly to find food."

It's not the first time Australians have been cautioned over feeding wild magpies, WIRES volunteer Inga Tiere earlier told Yahoo News Australia.

Her message is simple — people should not be feeding any native animal unless there is absolutely no food for them due to a drought. "Regarding mince meat, it is actually very, very bad for the native animals," she told Yahoo, adding that people will often feed it to native birds.

On social media this week, people said the "confronting" images, while "graphic", need to be seen so that "people don't continue in this trend". "I've never personally done this but have known plenty who have and never thought it bad other than fattening them," one person admitted.

"If you must feed native wildlife (I don't recommend it) then mealworms are available at Petbarn," another suggested.

"People need to enjoy the wild part of the wildlife. I love my local maggies (sic), the kangaroo, and the wombat. But I don't interfere with them. I just enjoy sharing the world with them," another person said.

"That's really sad. Thanks for sharing so we all know," said another.

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