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August 12, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, August 12, 2005

City: Don't foul the fowl City: Don't foul the fowl (August 12, 2005)

Feeding ducks does more harm than good

by Koren Temple

At the Baylands Preserve duck pond last week, kids and parents gleefully tossed pieces of crumbling bread to flocks of fighting ducks.

The activity seemed quite harmless, but according to city officials, feeding the ducks at the Baylands creates a foul effect.

"People are dropping off piles of unwanted bread or food that's gone bad thinking they are helping, but in fact they aren't," said Darren Anderson, senior ranger of the city's Open Spaces Division

The city is mounting an information campaign to dissuade feeding the ducks because of health concerns. So far, the effort -- called "Killing Them With Kindness" -- consists of signs posted near the pond explaining why feeding park wildlife is a bad idea.

One of the main concerns is it disrupts their natural eating habits, Anderson said. Ducks' natural diet consists of aquatic vegetation, such as worms, clams and shellfish -- not Cheetos, crackers, or moldy bread. Even fowl are prone to the sweet temptation of snack foods, which can cause stress and competition among the ducks.

As a result, Anderson said birds can suffer injuries fighting over food.

The pond and its surroundings are home to 22 permanent bird species and another 150 migratory species. But when overfeeding occurs, migration is disrupted because the ducks don't want to leave. This leaves the pond overcrowded with begging birds, Anderson said.

Some harmful effects of overcrowding are pollution and the potential for diseases.

"When the ducks are in tight spaces, they can become overstressed and sickly," said Anderson, who has seen respiratory diseases among the flocks.

So far, when Anderson visits the pond to inform the public of the campaign, he said people respond favorably.

"It's usually, 'Oh gosh, I didn't know I wasn't supposed to feed the ducks,' followed by 'What should I be feeding them?' And the answer is, nothing" Anderson said.

Still the majority of the public is unaware, as demonstrated last week, despite the signs posted in the informational booth.

"I think we've just scratched the surface," said Anderson, who realizes that people are still going to feed the wildlife.

Plans are in the process to place a permanent sign near the pond, one more visible than a standard leaflet that would detail the dangerous effects of overfeeding in both English and Spanish.

"I do understand that it's not unusual for cities and parks across the country to limit the amount of food animals are getting. I think it's something not out of the ordinary," said Parks and Recreation Chair Anne Cribbs.

Although Palo Alto doesn't have an ordinance prohibiting feeding, many other cities do - including most in Santa Clara County. Fremont has had similar issues, and has addressed it with educational postings, media attention and enforced ordinances.

Foster City, another area with similar duck problems, has also posted signs to discourage duck feeding. It's the mess the fowl leave behind that is the main concern there.

"People can relate to that because they want clean beaches and lawns," Kevin Miller, director of Parks and Recreation in Foster City, said.

Anderson said he is unsure if the city will go so far as to enforce a no-feeding ordinance.

"Our intention is to start with the education and go from there," he said.

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