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80-year-old woman faces fines or jail time for feeding birds

I have very fond memories of going to Almansor Park in California with my mom when I was a small boy to give bread to the ducks and geese. Knowing what I know now about some of the consequences of feeding geese bread, I would have probably fed them something else or nothing at all. Nevertheless, it’s kind of inconceivable to think that I could have been arrested for feeding those birds.

That’s exactly what’s happening to an 80-year-old woman from Massachusetts who is currently facing a $300 fine or 30 days in jail for simply feeding birds at her local pond. Before getting outraged, it’s a pretty interesting case that brings to light some important issues for birds, so I’ll go over the details.

Claire Butcher, of Lynn, Mass., is passionate about feeding birds at the park. The only problem is this passion conflicts with the city’s ordinance against feeding ducks and geese. Butcher, also known as the “Bird Lady,” strongly believes that it’s her god-given right to feed birds and has continued to do so despite threats from the city.

Here’s how The Daily Item described her troubles:

Butcher’s current court problems originated in 2009 when city Public Works Commissioner Jay Fink and Health Director MaryAnn O’Connor signed the No Trespass Order banning Butcher from “any city owned playground or park.” They warned her in a letter outlining the order that she “will be subject to arrest and prosecution” if she violated the ban.

Phelan said city officials amended the ban in 2009 to allow Butcher to go on city property as long as she did not bring food for feeding animals into parks and other property. The amended order specifically banned her from going on city land with shopping carts or “wagons.”

As you can suspect, Butcher was recently seen pushing a shopping cart full of bread to the park and left a large pile. City officials aren’t really the bad guys because they do not want her to pay a fine or go to jail. They simply want her to stop feeding the birds.

I’m conflicted about this case because I think birds deserve to be given food, but as I wrote about a while back, there’s a myth that bread is a healthy snack for birds. Giving bread to ducks is like giving junk food to humans because there is no nutritional value and bread fattens them up. Another issue involves the spread of disease throughout the birds because carbohydrate-rich diets cause more excrement that harbors bacteria. Finally, pests like rats are very attracted to old pieces of bread the birds don’t eat.

It’s all of these reasons why the city decided to ban feeding ducks and geese at the park. It’s causing a big mess with droppings everywhere and neighbors are complaining. There also seems to be an overpopulation, which is forcing officials to prevent the birds’ eggs from hatching. When I think back to my time at Almansor Park, I also remember the park being in disarray with feathers, overly aggressive ducks and droppings everywhere.

While I think the city makes a good point when discouraging people from feeding birds, bird feeding is an old pastime among citizens. Instead of outright banning the “Bird Lady” from taking care of the birds, they should encourage her to give other types of food like cracked corn, vegetable trimmings or wild bird food. This will be healthier for the birds and keep pests away.

So, the next time you head over to the park with your children and loved ones, don’t grab the old bread in your house. Take something nice and healthy for the birds to eat and help keep the parks clean.

For more information on why feeding ducks bread is discouraged, check out this article.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

6 Comments

  1. “I think birds deserve to be given food….”
    Exactly what makes wild birds *entitled* to being fed? These are not house pets that an owner has a duty to feed; they are wild animals that are supposed to forage for themselves.

    “While I think the city makes a good point when discouraging people from feeding birds, bird feeding is an old pastime among citizens.”
    Just because something is a pastime doesn’t mean that it is right or should be continued. Feeding black bears in Yosemite is also a pastime people enjoyed during the 1930s before park managers discovered that the artificial feedings were creating nuisance bears that ended up having to be killed.

    “I fed ducks and geese all my life and never saw any negative effects. As a matter of fact, after I fed the ducks I walked thru the park and picked up all the trash that others would leave.”
    Apart from the dubious claim of picking up “all the trash that others would leave,” a smug and self-righteous attitude over picking up litter doesn’t negate the illegality of feeding park wildlife or its negative consequences. Nor does claiming ignorance as to any negative consequences actually establish that there are no negative consequences.

    Feeding wildlife alters their natural behavior. It causes them to lose their fear of humans and even their ability to forage and survive on their own. It promotes unnaturally high concentrations of wildlife populations, which leads to unnaturally high concentrations of fecal matter, which then both contribute to unnaturally high rates of disease transmission. Excess food and fecal matter create a breeding ground for pests, which creates a public health risk. And the land and/or water where the population is housed end up getting degraded.

    None of these things are healthy for either wildlife or people, but people short-sightedly choose to do so anyway either out of selfishness, irresponsibility, ignorance, or some combination of the above.

    Regardless of how appealing a person views the opportunity to feed or handle wildlife, the best way to respect park wildlife is to appreciate it from an appropriate distance.

  2. […] excessive fines and jail time are only given in extreme circumstances like one 80-year-old Massachusetts woman who faced a jail sentence for feeding birds despite repeated warnings, banning bird feeding seems […]

  3. just to let you know that this news story has been presented with one side only by the “media”. ms butcher does not go to the pond to hand feed domesticated ducks a few crumbs of leftover bread. she brings a grocery cart overflowing with anything from potato chips, rice, dogfood and loaves of bread and dumps the entire contents onto the ground, attracting flocks of seagulls, pigeons, rats and canada geese. it has become a problem in that the canada geese no longer follow their natural migratory pattern, but “migrate” from the 3 small local ponds following ms. butcher and her grocery cart. the taxpayers have had to pay for experts to come and show us how to control the goose population by addling their eggs!!! she has been offered alternatives to volunteer at shelters or wildlife reserves, yet she belligerently refuses such offers. she is defiant, rude, foul-mouthed and apparently mentally compromised. the taxpayers have not only spent $ in an attempt to control the goose over-population, but have footed the bill for her court fees and public defender. she is a nuisance, and she is harming the animals she claims to love so much by feeding them massive amounts of food that they should not be eating. this is a perfect example of how the media blatantly presents a story in order to create a sensational headliner.

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