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Duck feeding is an age-old pasttime

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The ban on feeding the waterfowl in Prospect Park will bring an end to a childhood rite that goes back to the beginnings of organized civilization.

Park officials say that the ban is necessary to control the population of geese and reduce the likelihood of another massacre of the birds by the federal government, but many parkgoers are appalled at the notion of never feeding the waterfowl again — one of the rare opportunities for Brooklynites to interact with nature within the confines of the borough.

“It’s magical for kids,” said Chad Zigler, who was admiring the waterfowl with his three children. “I don’t see the harm in [feeding them] — but I’m no ecologist or ornithologist.”

And it’s not just kids who love feeding the waterfowl. On any given day, many adults also toss breadcrumbs or oats to the gulls, geese, ducks and swans loafing in the lake.

“There should not be a ‘no-feed’ policy, that’s just wrong,” said Rina Deych at the meeting where the policy proposal was announced. “You can’t take that away from people!”

Currently, Prospect Park administrators have posted signs that ask visitors to not feed the waterfowl, but nothing more.

“Right now we ask people not to feed the wildlife, but there is no enforcement powers behind [it],” said Eugene Patron, a spokesman for Prospect Park. “If the part or all of the Park is declared a ‘no feeding’ area, Park Enforcement Patrol officers could issue summonses to violators.”

Patron added that the goal is to educate people about the harm caused by feeding the waterfowl, but it won’t be easy to break a habit imbedded in the very fiber of many families and, indeed, humanity itself.

According to legend, the first bird-feeder was the Scottish St. Serf, who tamed a robin by giving it food back in the sixth century.

And bird-feeding has been a hobby since at least the 1880s when the German aristocrat Baron von Berlepsch invented feeding devices for his avian friends, although his initial goal was to control bothersome insects.

And bird feeding was declared a “national pastime” in England 100 years ago, according to “A Bird in the Bush,” a book by the renowned British birder, Stephen Moss.

Yes, feeding birds can harm avian populations by causing them to grow at an unnatural rate. It also makes birds more comfortable and dependent on humans, increasing the likelihood of dangerous encounters.

But whatever the bird brains of Prospect Park decide, “feeding the ducks” was even once sanctioned in the halls of Congress.

On Feb. 23, 1994, then-Rep. John Porter (R–Illinois) declared February “National Bird-Feeding Month,” standing in the well of the House and stating, “Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize February, one of the most difficult months in the United States for wild birds, as National Bird-Feeding Month. During this month, individuals are encouraged to provide food, water, and shelter to help wild birds survive.”

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Reader Feedback

PattyA from Manhattan says:
Thank you, Mr. Brown and Brooklyn Paper for once again addressing the hysteria, accusation and scapegoating with actual facts.

Canada geese are not dependent on humans for food. The instinct to move is far greater than any desire for human treats. However, during the winter months, it can be rough on most birds. Frozen waters and snow on ground make finding food more difficult.

It seems any "feeding bans" during those times are particularly cruel and have no real effect on bird population numbers later.

Changing the habitat, oiling eggs and if geese numbers are really out of hand, chasing them off with Border Collies WILL keep the numbers down.

But, bans on feeding only serve to create an even greater divide between animals and humans and as you point out, deprive children of the opportunity and joy to interact and get to know wildlife in a positive, nurturing kind of way.

Thank you for a once again very englightening and well researched article.
Nov. 23, 2010, 11:05 am
Greta says:
If these geese are wildlife, then they shouldn't be fed. Let them fend for themselves, forge for their own food. That's what wildlife does.

Ticket the kids that are disobeying the policy of the park and ban them from ever entering and enjoying the park ever again.
Nov. 23, 2010, 11:28 am
K. from Arkady says:
Generally a bad idea to feed wildlife; but birds in winter can use a hand now and then. I'd be down with the ban in Prospect Park if they extended it to include the talking monkeys. Please don't feed the primates.
Nov. 23, 2010, 12:06 pm
Greta says:
Oh and these kids that feed the wildlife geese should be sent upstate and encouraged to feed bears. Let them experience the joys of interacting and getting to know wildlife.
Nov. 23, 2010, 12:18 pm
Mitchel Cohen from Bensonhurst says:
I'll be bringing appropriate food for the ducks, to give to little kids from time to time.

If they'll arrest me, so be it. We'll fight that out in court when it happens.

I hope hundreds of you will join me in that sort of direct action.

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party
Nov. 23, 2010, 1:01 pm
K. from Arkady says:
Here's a suggestion before the trolls ruin this thread. The park dept has shown no interest in reining in the littering/picnicing in the park. This is a major source of food for the wildlife. I don't see anyone hand feeding the rats, but they're certainly eating well and thriving. If it is so important to control the geese, then eliminate all primate feeding in the park. Arrest litterers. This will _actually_ reduce the problem of wildlife feeding. reductio ad absurdum.
Nov. 23, 2010, 1:18 pm
MB from WT says:
Of course, the best food for them is their natural diet of acquatic plants, grains and invertebrates, however people will continue to feed and ignore the signs.

At the very least, if folks are going to feed during the winter months, when perhaps those birds that are left behind are in need of a little help, people need to be educated on why feeding white bread is harmful to the birds.

Many people that feed, with all good intentions, do not know that white Bread creates nutritional deficiencies that causes "Angel Wing" which results in their wings to turn outwards and the bird is then unable to fly. White Bread contains too much protein and sugar and not enough vitamins D & E.

You also have to worry about any uneaten bread, rotten and moldy which leads to more problems on many levels.
Often people will bring their stale, moldy bread from home. If it's not good for you to eat, why would it be good for them? White bread, however is easy and cheap available anywhere.

Healthier alternatives to bread?
cracked corn, seed and grains.
Nov. 23, 2010, 2:38 pm
ArleneS from Brooklyn says:
The main problem with feeding wildlife is that people feed all the wrong things - like white bread, and other junk food. (it's not good for US, why would anyone feed it to them?) I even saw one person breaking up POUNDCAKE to feed to ducks on the creek near my home. I engaged her in conversation and explained what she should and shouldn't feed them, and never saw her make that mistake again. Most people just need to be educated.

One thing that has worked in parks elsewhere and wouldn't be a bad idea in PP is to sell small bags of appropriate food for the waterfowl and permit ONLY that food to be fed to them. This would necessitate park personnel or volunteers to oversee the food situation, and signage. All other food should be forbidden. The small change from the food would add up and could be used to self-fund the program. It would also be a good idea to post informational signs all around the park with backgrounds about the type of animals who live there and what kind of food they eat naturally and why it isn't a good idea to overfeed them or feed them the wrong things. People know nothing about the wildlife there and an education policy is desperately needed. (You'd think with computers they'd be interested enough to research these animals themselves, but it always amazes me that they don't.)

I think a limited feeding policy - especially if the feed is provided by the park - wouldn't be so bad, especially in winter. The fact is, like it or not, people are going to do what they want anyway. And at least people who interact with animals tend to learn to care about them.
Nov. 23, 2010, 8 pm
Moshe Aron Kestenbaum from Williamsburg ODA says:
The poor geeze is getting first killed now the once that survived will be starved to death. How cruel ? How could we not have some compassion on gods creatures?
Nov. 23, 2010, 9:04 pm
Joe Z. from Greenpoint says:
I guess Parks doesn't want to create a new class of welfare recipient. Everyone knows how lazy and shiftless geese could be. Next thing these fowl will be asking for will be pond vouchers and gosling care. It's a viscious cycle that never ends.
Nov. 23, 2010, 10:04 pm
Mary C from Park Slope says:
And if I feed a few healthy seeds to the geese and ducks, what are they gonna do - take away my HANDS???
Nov. 23, 2010, 10:31 pm
Karl from Park Slope says:
The Prospect Park Alliance runs Prospect Park into the ground. Tupper Thomas, the president of the Alliance is an arrogant toady who has no business running a so-called non-profit.
The Alliance asks for volunteers to cover up their incompetence at formulating a viable maintenance plan to save a rapidly decaying park.
Nov. 24, 2010, 9:28 am
Elevador from windsor terrace says:
I just don't see sufficient cause for the practice of feeding birds to end.

I believe the root of the "problem" is an aviation one. Why are not the best minds in aviation addressing this?
Nov. 28, 2010, 1:54 pm

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