Should I offer backyard brushtail possums food?

Human food is not natural for brushtail possums and can make them sick. They normally eat leaves, flowers, fruits and insects. Eating other food can cause life threatening illnesses and obesity. Brushtail possums are relatively small compared to humans, so even small portions of human food can be very unhealthy for them.

This chart is best viewed in Chrome or Safari.

Brushtail possums fed by humans may become less capable and adaptable foragers and dependent on humans for food. This puts them at risk if the human feeder goes on holiday or moves away. The population density of brushtail possums around human food sources may become abnormally increased, which may lead to increased aggression and infection transmission, which may make local brushtail possums sick. Feeding brushtail possums may result in them losing their fear of humans, and as a result make them more vulnerable to abuse by other people.

 

Offering backyard brushtail possums food is not recommended.

If you choose to do this you should offer food in ways that minimises the risk of harm:

  • Completely avoid unhealthy (and potentially life-threatening) food such as bread, cakes and biscuits, raw meat and cooked bones.  
    • Some food may cause life threatening illnesses.
    • Raw meat can give them parasites like Toxoplasma gondii. Cooked bones do not digest properly.
  • Offer very small portions of safer foods, and not everyday.
    • Small pieces of fruit are the safest option for brushtail possums. Provide a small cube (1cm x 1cm x 1cm) every few days at the most.
    • Portion size is important! Large quantities of fruit can make possums sick.
  • Offer food for possums at high locations, away from pets and foxes.
    • Place it on a tree branch or a feeding station set up in a tree.
    • Clean the feeding station regularly to prevent it becoming a source of disease.

 

What can I do instead to help brushtail possums living in my garden?

There are plenty of things you can do to assist brushtail possums living in your garden, to encourage their presence without the risk of causing them harm.

  • Ensure they are safe from pets on your property
    • Keep cats indoors, or confined to outdoor enclosures.
    • Provide lots of “escape routes” for possums to get away from dogs – trees and sturdy trellis leading up to high walls and rooftops provide such routes.
  • Grow vegetation that will provide natural food sources, like flowers and fruit, for brushtail possums.
  • Provide waterproof nest box in trees on your property to provide nest sites for possums. Land for Wildlife recommends that they are placed 4m above the ground, facing south away from the sun, with nest material inside the box, and with a cockroach strip taped inside the nest box lid to prevent invasion by bees in spring.
  • Avoid using poisons such as snail bait and rat bait – both of which can be fatal to brushtail possums.
    • If using snail baits, use iron EDTA (this may still make brushtail possums sick, but is less likely to cause death).
    • Use cages for the bait that allow access to snails but not brushtail possums.
  • “Wildlife proof” ponds and pools.
    • Use pool covers.
    • Ensure there is an escape route if a possum falls in – e.g. bricks placed on the top step of a pool, or a sturdy stack of bricks onto which a possum can climb to get out of a pond.
  • Do not remove possums from your property and release them elsewhere. This is illegal (Wildlife Conservation Act, 1950). Few brushtail possums survive after being moved in this way.

 

 

Download the ‘Feeding brushtail possums’ information sheet.

 

Source:

1Nagy, K.A., Girard, I.A., Brown, T.K. 1999. Energetics of free-ranging mammals, reptiles and birds. Ann. Rev. Nutr. 19: 247-277