Don’t Feed the Waterfowl

You don’t like stale bread, and neither do birds.

Last week, workers at Melbourne Park in Florida installed signs with red lettering that read,  “Feeding Wildlife Prohibited.” You might think this was intended to protect wild animals, but really the intention was to stop birds, accustomed to humans giving them treats, from harassing park-goers, Florida Today reports.

The parks’ birds had gotten feisty. "A couple days ago, three very attractive white geese went after me like it was D-Day," Melbourne city manager Mike McNees told the city council, the local paper reported.

It’s a smart move, says Stephen Kress, vice president for bird conservation at the National Audubon Society. People shouldn’t feed waterbirds like geese or ducks.

Here’s some advice for interacting with birds in parks:

1. Don’t want rogue birds? Don’t feed them.

Birds normally stay away from humans, but feeding them can make them lose their fear of us. While it’s really only geese who attack, says Kress, not feeding waterbirds helps keep proper distance.

Supplementing birds’ diets can alter their behaviour in other ways, too. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, artificial feeding sites for waterbirds creates unnatural competition, and delay bird migration: ”Ducks and geese are far better off building their reserves by moving from location to location in search of a healthy natural diet than they are living on foods that we would never consider feeding to our children or our pets.”

2. Stop with the (moldy) bread.

If you think something is too old to eat yourself, it’s probably too old for birds. Moldy food that (well-meaning) humans often bring to parks is just as bad for birds as it is for humans.

Avoid feeding the birds fresh bread and crackers, too—they’re just a source of empty calories that don’t deliver the nutrients these animals need to stay healthy.

3. Birdseed isn’t great for ducks and geese, either.

Even feeding birds the right stuff has its downsides—birdseed will attract too many waterfowl, which can deplete natural food and water sources. Parks overrun with birds will also be overrun with bird droppings. Plus, it’ll make the birds easy targets for dogs and cats that frequent parks.

(Songbird feeders are fine, though—“feeding landbirds can usually be done safely,” says Kress. Avoid locations near windows, or any spot that outdoor cats can access easily.)

4. Still want to feed waterbirds? Go native!

Putting native plants in your garden—and encouraging local parks to do the same—makes for an insect-rich environment. Birds evolved to eat insects, and for good reason—they’re a nutritionally-dense meal.

Then, get a great pair of binoculars and observe happy birds hanging out, undisturbed.