Recently, staff and city workers at Lake Murray have begun to actively tell regular duck and bird feeders to stop their feedings. A man who has been coming to the lake every morning for more than five years has been, specifically, told not to feed the birds. Other people have not been told specifically, but are aware of the new rules and the future placement of signs prohibiting the feeding of the ducks and geese. Also noticeably absent is a sign advertising duck food for sale at the liquor store across the street on Lake Murray Boulevard.
Feeding birds and wildlife is not illegal in San Diego, but usually discouraged for various reasons. For one, it can cause dependence on people for food in some cases. It may also contribute to overpopulation and attract pests. City staffers have been heard saying that feeding the birds has attracted rats and more seagulls than usual and dramatically increased the squirrel population, which was booming in 2010. These activities have threatened the integrity of the lake, they say. Also, ducks have gathered in large groups in the main parking lot, risking injuries to them from fast drivers or damage to vehicles.
Many of the regular feeders don’t feed junk food to the birds, they feed them duck food, bird seed and cracked corn. While feeding, birds are often checked for injuries from fishing line and other human-related activities. Many birds in that area have lost the use of their feet or toes due to fishing line injuries. Some ducks, mostly domestic birds that were dumped there, cannot fly and sometimes cannot forage effectively. Other birds are old or have deformities and rely on people for most of their food. Regular feedings in the morning give a good opportunity to check the health of many of the birds at the lake.
People feed ducks for various reasons. Some just like seeing the varieties of ducks up close and like to see them eat. Others like to make sure their favorites are all doing OK. Some are concerned about the ducks injured by man’s activities and through no fault of their own. I remember one man telling me that he knew of someone who fed the ducks as a penance for all the ducks he hunted in his past. For some people, it gives them a spiritual feeling.
During the last seven months, duck populations have remained stable at Lake Murray, going up slightly during duckling season. In the winter, species other than mallards start to visit, such as scaups and ruddy ducks. Coot populations have gotten larger, but mostly due to the ebb and flow of migrations.
Suggestions for handling this issue:
Here are some suggestions that I have for dealing with this issue:
Tell everyone not to feed the birds, not just a few. Also, enforce all lake policies, including checking for boat and fishing permits, enforcing the speed limit, making sure people aren’t harassing/throwing rocks at wildlife, and get people to pick up their fishing line.
Have one or two people or a select group of volunteers feed the birds every day or a few days a week, early in the morning before the lake gets busy. Make sure they feed the ducks in an area away from the parking lot or driveway as possible. Discourage other people from feeding the ducks, especially feeding them bread, by telling them that someone comes in the morning to feed them every day and they are being taken care of.
Discourage people from deliberately feeding the squirrels.
Establish a waterfowl rescue center or duck rescue centers and move all new, non-flying domestic ducks and geese to these centers as soon as they’re dropped off (current domestic residents should remain). At these centers, ducks and geese should be inspected for health and tamed for future adoption. Steps should be taken to educate the public about the problems and pitfalls of leaving their pet ducks and geese at a public lake.
Secure trash bins more effectively to prevent pests from getting into the trash.
Of course, many of these suggestions require money and people, which is hard to obtain in a tight economy. A waterfowl rescue center is also very difficult to set up and run.
I hope that some kind of resolution will be worked out with people who like to feed the birds and the city. In my opinion, I do think that some of the bird feeding has gone awry at Lake Murray with so many people feeding the ducks all day long, mostly bread. But, I worry about those ducks who have been raised being fed every day, or the ones that have been injured dying because they can’t forage as well as the other ducks through no fault of their own. I feel it’s hard on everyone to suddenly disallow it all at once.
Many regular feeders have said that they will continue to feed the birds even if they were told not to.