Beach-side residents cry foul to fowl feeding

Article Courtesy of The Daytona Beach News-Journal
By Dustin Wyatt

Published March 15, 2017


DAYTONA BEACH SHORES -- He found his beach hobby 15 years ago when a little bird with a missing leg hopped over.

"Stubby," recalled Robert Summers, his deep tan indicating his status as a regular to Volusia Beaches. "We called him Stubby. ... He'd come to people, and we'd feed him."


The South Daytona man has been handing out crackers and other snack foods to birds on the sands of Daytona Beach Shores ever since.

It brings him joy, he said, and — for now — there are no rules against it. But that could change. Lately, his bird feeding has been the source of complaints to Beach Safety Ocean Rescue and local elected officials from frustrated condominium owners. The County Council is expected this month to decide if bird feeding on the beach should result in consequences.

There are plenty of arguments from both sides. Condo owners complain of swarms disrupting their quality of life. Bird scientists warn of the health risks junk foods pose to birds. Meanwhile, the vice president of the Halifax River Audubon believes there are bigger issues to worry about and questions how the county can enforce such rules fairly anyway. There are also concerns about the county handing more rules and regulations to beach-goers.

The biggest supporter to a change on the council is Billie Wheeler. Though she's unsure of the right solution, she's certain that any rule change shouldn't be so strict that it prohibits children and families from dropping the occasional crumb or chip for a bird.

Migrating birds arrive in larger numbers during the earlier part of winter, like these gulls gathered for a tourist's photo opp in December. When people feed the birds on the beach, they can also gather in large numbers, to the annoyance of nearby condo dwellers.

"This is for people who come out there with bags of bread. They need to understand that it's affecting" residents, she said, giving some examples of how to get that message across. "Maybe we need some more signage out there. Maybe no feeding in front of the condos."


In front of a condo is where Summers feeds. To residents of the Towers Ten Condominium, he turns their otherwise peaceful panorama into a scene from a Hitchcock movie.

The birds swarm. They perch on porch railings. Wade through the pool. And when they fly away with full stomachs, they leave behind a mess.

The condo's maintenance staff spends about an hour each daily cleaning up all of the bird droppings. Stains remain on the floor of the deck and on the railings.

"They poop all over the pool, the chairs," said Anita Rimler, who's written emails to county council members and Shores city commissioners about the recurring nuisance.

"It's unsanitary to sit there and have bird droppings on you," said her husband, George Rimler, pointing toward a public park less than a mile away. "Why can't they feed the birds down there?"

There are signs scattered along the beach that warn against feeding birds. However, there are no consequences for those that don't oblige, said Tamra Marris, spokeswoman with Volusia Beach Safety Ocean Rescue.

"We try to recommend to people that it is not good for the birds, but there is no ordinance against it," she said.

Those complaining about bird feeding have a national consortium of bird scientists on their side.

It's absolutely not safe for a variety of reasons, said Ellen Paul, an ornithologist out of Washington, D.C., who's also executive director of the American Ornithologist Council, a consortium of like-minded professionals.

Paul said it's not a big deal if one person occasionally throws out food, but if birds return time and time again to the same spot for sweet and salty hand-outs, they can become "junk food addicts" and that's not the nutrients birds need.

There's also a phenomena referred to as "Angel Wing," a bone deformity believed to be caused by an improper diet that can ground birds. And there are risks that come with moldy bread.

"People tend to bring the old bread (to throw out), which can often be moldy and that's a real issue," Paul said, adding that even if it's not moldy when it's handed out, it could be that way by the time birds finally get to it.


But the biggest question, even for Wheeler who's pushing an ordinance: How does the county enforce new rules?

Even a local bird enthusiast doesn't think it's possible.

David Hartgrove, vice president and conservation chair of the Halifax River Audubon, said both species have shared the beach since before Ponce de Leon first sailed to Florida.

"I don't see much chance for any abatement of (bird feeding) behavior," he said. "It gives pleasure to the folks who do it."

Debbie Curtis of Port Orange agrees. She feeds in the same area as Summers.

"They shouldn't take that away from us," she said. "I enjoy feeding the birds because I like to watch them. They are very pretty to look at and sometimes they act like they have their own personalities."

As for Hartgrove, he'd rather see an ordinance that prohibits people from running or driving toward a flock of birds, causing them to scatter.

"Often these birds may have been migrating a long distance and need time to rest and replenish their reserves," he said. "Running through them or, even worse, driving through them, is actually a violation of federal law. I'm not holding my breath waiting for any enforcement action on this issue though."

Other residents believe there are already enough rules governing public beach use and access.

"I would say no to any more rules on the beach," said Paul Zimmerman, who heads an advocacy group that fights for the public's right to access the beaches locally and state wide. "I don't know why they would remove feeding — just one more activity in which some residents and taxpayers find enjoyment."


Daytona Beach Shores Mayor Harry Jennings is also in favor of a bird feeding ordinance — one directed at those who show up with whole loaves of bread, not those who drop crumbs. It wouldn't be just for the sake of beachside residents, but also for the health and well-being of the birds.

"It's not good for the people who are sitting out there poolside, nobody wants to go out to a pool and have bird poop everywhere. And it's not healthy for the birds," he said. "If it's not healthy for the birds, why do we allow it?"

Some of the residents of the Daytona Beach Shores condominium have been living there since it opened 17 years ago. Bird feeding hasn't been a nuisance until recently, they say.

It's gotten so bad they carry noisemakers with them to the pool to ward off the seagulls and pelicans.

"You don't get any peace when you're sitting out there by the pool," Vicki Baker said, of her frustration.

And the annoyance lingers after the man on the beach with all the free food leaves.

The Department of Health in Volusia County will sometimes issue swimming advisories on the beach when bacteria from animal intestines is present in the ocean. Sometimes, like what happened June 3 of last year, it's the result of bird feces collected in calm waters.

However, bird droppings in a pool shouldn't be a cause for alarm because of the chlorine, said Holly Smith, communications manager with the Department of Health in Volusia County, which also regularly inspects pools, including the ones at condominiums, for water quality and safety.

Junk food shouldn't affect how much or how often a bird poops either, experts say. But those who live along the ocean may naturally be in the splash zone, said Hartgrove, with Halifax River Audubon.

"As the wind comes rushing into the shore it strikes the dune face or the seawall and creates the perfect updraft for flights of the birds returning from feeding out at sea," he said. "Flying along at 15 mph, one can release a fairly long squirt that will hit the ground, or the pool deck like a string of bombs from a B-29. ... So I don't see the condo owners having a happy outcome to their dilemma."

Robert Summers said an ordinance just doesn't make sense. On a recent Tuesday, as he does nearly every day, he extended a Pepperidge Farm Goldfish cracker toward a quickly approaching grackle. It snatched it up, swallowed it, and then returned for more. As hungry as Stubby was 15 years ago.

"The birds come to me and I feed them," he said. "These birds go to the dump for food anyway. What are we going to do, shut down the dump? They are going to get human food no matter what."