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Quackdown on Duck Feeders?

Fowl: Newport Beach is pondering fining those who give water birds treats regularly or in 'bulk.'

November 09, 2001|STANLEY ALLISON and DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Memo to the ducks of Newport Bay: The free lunch may be over.

Under an ordinance now being considered by Newport Beach, people who regularly feed the ducks in the bay's islands, marshes and boat docks would face fines of up to $500.

Supporters believe the law is needed because humans are disrupting the natural migratory patterns of ducks and other water fowl by throwing handfuls of bread, bagels and baguettes into the bay.

Treated to this buffet of breads, more birds are staying put in Newport Beach rather than continuing on their migratory paths. And their droppings are worsening the bay's already polluted waters.

The ordinance leaves it up to code enforcement officers and other city officials to determine on a case-by-case basis how much feeding is too much. The proposal says that "temporary and incidental" feeding is permitted but that regular or "bulk" feeding is not.

Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff puts it another way: "We are trying to make a distinction between a person . . . with a [piece of] bagel feeding a duck and someone who has a bucket of bread. . . . We are not trying to pick on the ducks. We are trying to protect the water quality."

Duck droppings contain high levels of coliform bacteria that can be harmful to humans--especially in the stagnant waters of the bay.

"In an area where you have lots of ducks and limited [natural] flushing of water, a few ducks can go a long way" toward polluting the water, said Monica Mazur of the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Along the canal separating Balboa Island from Little Balboa Island, the daily quacking of the approximately 75 ducks can be heard for blocks.

Helen Chapman, 77, a resident since 1934, said she's fed the ducks every day for 30 years. The idea of regulating their feeding, Chapman said, is "dumb. Why are we worrying about something as stupid as this?"

She has become so familiar with the birds that she has even given some of them names, such as Pretty Girl, Peepers and Bibs. "They are God's creatures," Chapman said, "and, I'm sorry, but I don't think anybody is going to tell me that I can't feed them."

A much newer resident across the water, however, sees the matter differently. Lisa Brown, 31, moved to Balboa with her husband and three young children just over a year ago. And sharing the neighborhood with so many ducks, she said, is "very loud, obnoxious and you have to wear earplugs all day long."

Her biggest concern, however, is water pollution. "I live on the water," Brown said, "and I can't set foot in it. My kids get skin rashes if they touch the water. My pediatrician told me they should stay away from it."

The matter was so upsetting, Brown said, that she called her city councilman and the state Department of Fish and Game on many occasions to complain. "If they stopped feeding the ducks on a regular basis," she said, "they would migrate like normal ducks. The canal is not big enough for all these ducks--there needs to be some guidelines."

If Newport Beach approves the ordinance, it will join a handful of other municipalities that have laws regulating feeding ducks.

Villa Park, for example, passed an ordinance in May 1999 after residents complained about a neighbor who fed flocks of wild ducks, causing excessive droppings and unsanitary conditions.

A Newport Beach subcommittee voted Thursday to forward the ordinance to the City Council for review, probably at its Dec. 11 meeting.

The ordinance calls for at least two warnings, accompanied by educational materials, before a fine of $100 to $500 would be imposed.

"One of our big goals is not to fine people but to educate them and win over people who love ducks but also love good water quality," Kiff said.

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