Duck feeding is an age-old pasttime

Duck feeding is an age-old pasttime
Community Newspaper Group / Julie Rosenberg

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.”