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.