Wild Foods 4 Wildlife by Kate


The Headwaters Chapter’s Annual Meeting on Saturday, January 26 featured HMN Kate Guenther, Cohort I, presenting about her work to connect wildlife in rehabilitation with their natural-state “wild” foods through her website Wildfoods4Wildlife.com.

Note from Kate: 

Thank you all for allowing me to share my passion for animals and plants with you at the annual meeting. You all asked great questions and I felt warmly supported. I am so proud of what our chapter has become and what you all are doing. I forgot, though, to make it easy for you to engage in the kind of work we discussed foraging for wild plant foods for rehabilitators. Please click on the following links to download the two handouts from the session:

Andrea Dono, Cohort V, took some notes on the talk and was willing to share them with us:

We can forage for food for our local wildlife rehabilitators. When wildlife are recuperating, they can’t get their preferred or favorite food and some of them might stop eating.

Kate started teaching herself identification of plants in the wild and then created a website that shows plants and provides information that can help you see what is available and which animals will eat them.

Orphaned animals that are brought in to centers may not have learned which foods to eat, what their foods smell and taste like, or how to open seeds and nuts.

Cottontails, bears and deer are the top animals brought to rehabilitators that need to eat wild food. They need to be trained up on wild and natural foods. Deer see the entire world as a salad bar but they need to eat the things that benefit them the most. Bears shouldn’t be learning to eat human foods or interact with humans at all.

Greenbrier leaf and spinach leaf comparison: greenbrier has more protein, fat, carbs, and fiber than spinach. Wild food is healthier than the grocery store foods. Spinach is 92% water, for example, while greenbrier is 55% and it is packed with so much more.

Foods on the landscape are a hand-in-glove evolutionary fit to the natural environment and what animals need. Clover leaf at its best happens to come up when baby rabbits leave the nest. When the nuts start falling from trees in the fall is when bears start looking to put on their weight to prepare for hibernation.

Wild food is a comfort food for comfort behaviors. Stress alone can kill animals that are in captivity, a condition known as capture myopathy. Giving them food that they prefer can help reduce their stress and play a role in preventing this.

Prey animals are naturally geared toward stress; their nervous systems are built for flight. Common prey animals are rabbits, chipmunks, and deer. They eat a lot of wild plant foods and benefit the most from them.

What food should we collect if we want to help?

Your yard is a good spot to look for food because it is easy to access and monitor frequently.

Foraging ethics:

  • Rule of thirds – if you found a food source, don’t take more than a third so you can leave enough behind for other animals and for the plant to propagate.
  • Be gentle – don’t rip at things, leave the plant intact and don’t kill anything.
  • Get permission, don’t trespass.
  • Don’t harvest things that have been exposed to toxins: don’t collect from along railroad lines or roadways, or places where pesticides are used. Wash what you’ve collected.

Ask rehabilitators what they might need, what timing works, when it can be dropped off. You would want to wash the items and catalog what you are bringing and make a note of who eats what. Ask if they have a place to store the food items to know how much they can accept. If they can’t store eight buckets of black walnuts, then you probably don’t want to waste your valuable foraging time collecting that much.


This website allows you to search by plant and by animal. It will also tell you which part of the plant an animal will eat. Through the menu bar on this site, you can find suggestions for things you might want to grow yourself, places where you can get seeds, and how to store foods among many other resources.

Top photo shows Kate presenting to the Annual Meeting attendees. All photos by Carl Droms.

Click on a photo below for a slide show and captions.