Sacramento's McKinley Park visitors urged not to feed bread to waterfowl

02/12/2013 12:00 AM

02/27/2013 8:08 PM

Judy McClaver said she grew up feeding ducks at McKinley Park, but now the east Sacramento resident is campaigning to stop people from tossing bread and crackers to birds in the pond.

Although bird feeding has been a tradition for years at McKinley Park, McClaver and the city of Sacramento are looking to control the human-food diets that apparently are posing health risks to local waterfowl.

"The problem with feeding birds bread is there are no nutrients – it's all empty carbs," said John Eadie, chairman of the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology.

The problem is part of a larger ecological trend, he said.

The birds McClaver fed in her youth were likely migratory, so they ate bread only on occasion. Today more birds don't migrate but stay at city ponds, living off the scraps from park visitors.

McClaver said she contacted the city after noticing McKinley Park birds with feathers awkwardly sticking out of their wings.

The mangled appearance is thought to be the result of a nutritional deficiency called "angel wing" that affects feather development, McClaver said.

McClaver said she visits the park three times a week and has seen about a dozen birds with the condition.

The city put up signs in November discouraging bird feeding at the park, but McClaver said she doesn't want bird feeding completely banned.

"The better policy is to educate people to feed the right stuff," she said.

A good diet for birds is nutritionally diverse, Eadie said.

Neighborhood volunteers will distribute sample bird food and fliers this weekend, McClaver said. The fliers recommend feeding whole grains, bird pellets, seeds and peas.

McClaver said parkgoers were receptive when she asked people to stop feeding McKinley birds bread and crackers last weekend.

"Everybody is concerned about the ducks," she said.

The city is considering bird-feeding best practices after removing signs banning all feeding. The first step is getting proper wording on new signs, spokesperson Linda Tucker said. "We don't have anybody on our staff who is an expert in waterfowl," she said. "We also don't have policies about feeding."

Surveys of animal control and bird rescue groups did not produce a decisive bird-feeding policy, so the city plans to approach the academic community about waterfowl policies for its nine ponds on city parks, Tucker said.

Eadie said urban-ecology policies go beyond safe feeding habits and must consider issues such as population control and predators. Although he advocates natural habitats and discourages feeding, ponds offer city residents opportunities to experience wildlife, Eadie said.

"The challenge is to channel that enthusiasm and energy in a way that is sustainable and not supplemented by Wonder Bread," he said.

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