Wildlife Attractants

Negative encounters with wildlife (or conflict) often occurs when animals act in a way that people may perceive to be dangerous or out of character for the animals. But most of the time animals are behaving naturally with no ill intent toward people. And, whether we see it or not, humans are encouraging the behaviours we’re worried about.

What Are Attractants?

Food and other resources that can change the behaviour of animals are grouped together under the general label of attractants. This can range from actual foodstuffs, purchased and given to animals, to common items like citronella candles or bird feeders. Attractants can also include industrial waste, BBQ grease traps, native fruit trees and berries and many more items you may never consider.

Removing attractants alone can end real or perceived human conflict with wildlife. Sometimes it requires more effort, such as aversion conditioning (hazing) or environmental design adaption (e.g. closing a gap in a fence). But, generally, if there’s no dinner on the plate, animals will move on and remain focused on natural food sources.

A black bear rips into accessible garbage bags.
A black bear (Ursus americanus) tears into an accessible garbage bag.
Photo by Awakened Eye / Getty Images

Attractant Checklists

Around The House

Managing these attractants can save the lives of wildlife while improving your local ecosystem.


  • Empty and clean grease traps.
  • Burn off and clean grills before and after each use.
  • Check below any surfaces for fallen foodstuffs.
  • If possible store your barbecue inside (do not keep propane inside).
  • The smell of a barbecue can attract many species from distances. Be aware of who may be visiting your barbecue.


  • Keep garbage, recycling and compost indoors until morning of pickup if possible.
  • If your garbage is kept outdoors utilize a hard sided bin with a secured lid.
  • In bear country utilize a bear-proof container for garbage, recycling and compost.
  • Put a #StashYourTrash sticker on your containers if allowed by your municipality.
  • Contact your municipality to find out what local bylaws may apply.

Pet Food:

  • Pet food should not be left outdoors as it will attract numerous species.
  • Regular feeding sites can become a source of disease transmission, conflict between species, and conflict with people.
  • Managed Trap-Neuter-Release cat colonies should have food removed as soon as it is consumed by cats.
  • Water dishes should be emptied, cleaned and refilled regularly.
  • Do not keep food items or other attractants from this list in garages or sheds if they are not secure against the wildlife in your area (especially bears).
  • Screen doors and thin/old wood aren’t much match for a hungry animal, be they a bear or an industrious raccoon; do not rely on them to keep wildlife out.
  • Harvest fruits and vegetables as soon as they’re ripe.
  • Contact local social services and charitable programs or community groups to find out if others can use excesses;
  • Fencing is useful to keep wildlife out – consider what wildlife is approach which plants to determine appropriate weight of fencing and supports necessary.
  • Plant non-berry or fruit-bearing shrubs and trees.
  • If you have uncertain visitors accessing your gardens, consider setting up a trail camera to identify the culprit – you may be surprised.
  • To keep out rabbits, squirrels, voles and other small critters, consider filling any holes on your immediate property where they may be hiding, as well as any tall grasses. Smaller animals like to have places to hide and this makes your garden less attractive.
  • If you have burrowing animals dig your fence at least one-foot underground (but always ensure it’s safe to dig in your yard first by searching for a call ‘before you dig’ line in your region). This is labour intensive but will provide a long-term solution.
  • Applying some scents can keep smaller animals away from your garden or beneath your deck. Check our resources page for directions on how to make DIY repellents with household items.
  • Large gardens in bear country may require permanent electric fencing.
  • Rotate aversion techniques to ensure wildlife doesn’t grow comfortable with individual methods or placements.
  • Natural green spaces, forests, recreational parks and parkettes can all be home to attractants that bring people and wildlife closer together. Sometimes resolving these attractants and potential conflict sites requires partnership with the greater community, municipal or state/provincial governments.
  • Identify who owns the property in question by contacting first your municipality or local representative then working up various levels of government.
  • Fruit-bearing trees and berry trees will attract bears as well as other wildlife. Native plants growing in natural areas should be left unless they are in a conflict site.
  • Utilize wildlife-proof waste receptacles in natural areas or where wildlife is often present. 

Bird Feeders and Other Feed Stations

Removing a bird feeder will have less impact on birds – and more on other wildlife – than you think.

Bird feeders are popular across North America for attracting and keeping the interest of birds. But bird feeders attract everyone in an ecosystem, not just winged visitors. Bears in particular are drawn to the high calorie seed in feeders, and any fallen seeds will attract rodents or other small animals.

Birds as well as smaller animals will attract larger animals, including those who may come into conflict with people or pets. Bird feeders in bear country are never a good idea and in other regions close attention should be paid to how much seed is falling and who else (including nocturnal creatures) are visiting the area as a result of the presence of a feeder.

Removing a feeder does not mean native birds will leave an area.

Other direct feeding, be it for baiting in hunting and trapping seasons or as a hobby for local wildlife, will also attract a multitude of species. Supplemental feeding in response to issues in an ecosystem or natural disaster should be carried out with the help of qualified experts who can monitor the impact on the overall food web.

Remember: consequences always exist in ecosystems, even if we can’t see them.

Resources and research

Bornhoft, W. (2018, January 9). Bears And Bird Feeders; A Recipe For ConflictPatch.com. Retrieved from https://patch.com/minnesota/across-mn/bears-bird-feeders-recipe-conflict

Greenfield, P. (2018, March 12). Garden bird feeders help spread disease among wild birdsThe Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/12/garden-bird-feeders-help-spread-disease-among-wild-birds

Lawson, B., Robinson, R. A., Toms, M. P., Risely, K., Macdonald, S., & Cunningham, A. A. (2018). Health hazards to wild birds and risk factors associated with anthropogenic food provisioningPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences373(1745), 20170091. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0091

Camping / Outdoor Recreation

Most Canadians participate in outdoor recreation of one type or another – here’s how to enjoy them while staying safe and protecting wildlife.


  • Do not take any food into your tent – even snacks.
  • Keep food in bear-safe / animal-safe storage sites and containers away from latrine and sleeping sites. If storage facilities are not provided on a campsite hang your food in a bear-safe container from a high tree away from latrine and sleeping sites.
  • Keep the fire pit clean and free of fallen or spilled food.
  • Anything related to food can attract bears and other wildlife, such as table cloths, condiments, cutlery, empty cans or containers, etc.
  • Consider cooking in different clothes than you sleep – those smells can linger and could be stored in a scent-proof bag outside of your tent.

General Campsite:

  • Talk to park rangers, visitor centre attendees, or look online to find out what local restrictions are in place – and follow them. 
  • Make sure you know what wild visitors you may have and take appropriate steps to mitigate and prevent possible conflict.
  • Keep pets on leash; it is documented that off-leash dogs will harass (intentionally or otherwise) bears and draw them back to people, as well as the fact that in media-reported dog-coyote conflict dogs were off leash more than 90% of the time. You can use an anchor line or umbilical-style leash to give your pooch a bit more freedom.
  • Keeping the campsite clean of all anthropocentric (human-based) litter will go a long way in reducing conflict while you’re at the site, as well as once you’ve left.
  • Make noise. Human sounds in the wild are one of the best defences against creating conflict with wildlife as most animals in natural areas will avoid people.
  • Always make noise while walking; bear bells may not be enough. Human sounds – such as talking – are the best way to let wildlife know you’re around.
  • Keep pets on leash; it is documented that off-leash dogs will harass (intentionally or otherwise) bears and draw them back to people, as well as the fact that in media-reported dog-coyote conflict dogs were off leash more than 90% of the time. You can use an umbilical-style long leash to give your pooch a bit more freedom.
  • Always let people know your plans (where you’re going and when you expect to be back) and carry an appropriately sized first aid kit in your pack or on your person.
  • Avoid using headphones or earbuds as they limit your ability to be situationally aware.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Before pausing to watch or observe wildlife (including birds) take a look around to establish if you’re near an attractant or there are wildlife present. If possible, have someone with you who can be aware while you focus on a subject.
  • Always make noise while walking; bear bells may not be enough. Human sounds – such as talking – are the best way to let wildlife know you’re around.
  • Avoid using headphones or earbuds as they limit your ability to be situationally aware.

Commerical / Industrial Locations

Businesses small and large have a role to play in keeping wildlife and nearby people safe. Whether it’s maintaining an animal-proof dumpster, ensuring employees understand the importance of not feeding animals or working with local non-profits and governments, there are progressive solutions that will save the animals – and likely save your company money with time.

  • Keep dumpsters, organic waste and recycling bins closed and secured until they’re needed; then close and secure afterwards.
  • Spray down dumpsters and the area surrounding them regularly to keep scents that attract wildlife down.
  • Consider bear-proof containers. You can find links in our resources page!
  • Many dumpsters have drains on them that are large enough for animals like rats, skunks and squirrels to enter. Unfortunately, skunks can easily get their heads stuck (due to the triangular shape of their skulls). Simply soldering an X on the mouth of the drain can help prevent larger animals from entering or getting stuck in these.
  • Talk to your municipality, province or state about programs that may be available in your area to help reduce costs or mitigate wildlife concerns through coexistence measures. 
  • Regularly walk around the property to identify potential attractants and/or try to establish what wildlife may be present.
  • Utilize fencing as needed. Tall fences and electric fencing can be a way to protect physical assets from wildlife (as well as for generally improved security).
  • Store any waste or products that may attract wildlife securely and according to industry requirements.
  • Work with your municipality or area non-profits to find coexistence solutions on your property.
  • Employees should be informed of the danger of feeding and/or approaching wildlife, both for them, the individual animals and others they may interact with.
  • Outdoor eating areas should be kept clean of food (including crumbs) and wildlife-proof waste receptacles provided; alternatively, an indoor bin designated for such waste can be made available. 
  • All interactions with wildlife or sightings of large and/or undesirable wildlife should be reported to management or the appropriate local authority.

Help Make A Difference

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About Us

Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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