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Bird Feeder Ordinance Ruffles Feathers

City councilman says ordinance to maintain bird feeders misunderstood.

City Councilman Jerry James  says his proposed ordinance regulating bird feeders in Cuyahoga Falls has stirred controversy mainly because it’s misunderstood.

James introduced legislation this week to address maintenance of bird feeders, requiring residents to clean areas surrounding the bird feeders.

James said he doesn’t know how what he said was interpreted to mean he had received reports of birds getting sick and dying from bad bird seed, or that he wanted to ban bird feeders.

He was asked if there had been reports of bird deaths in his ward. “I said no, it’s not to say there haven’t been, but I haven’t had any phone calls or reports of any kind of increased bird deaths in my ward. I don’t know if he misunderstood me or what, but I was definitely misquoted on that. 

“It has blossomed into a monster,” James said. 

“It was put on the Cuyahoga Falls website as a pending ordinance to discuss, and there were knee-jerk reactions from folks. I don’t blame the knee-jerk reactions because of the wording of the ordinance, because it actually says in big letters, ‘Feeding of birds restricted.’ ”

“The layman is gonna read that and think, ‘This idiot is wanting to ban bird feeders!’ I’ve been on council for 10 years and I still have trouble reading legalese,” James said. “You gotta really take the time and read the entire body of the ordinance, not read something, take an immediate impression and react.

“It’s been a knee-jerk reaction that has gone totally out of control. And now it’s made national news, and frankly I’ve been made a buffoon out of this.” It touched off a series of responses at AkronNewsNow and even made the Drudge Report feed.

Earlier this week James told AkronNewsNows.com, “There’s a lot of seed that comes out … onto the ground, and the seeds that aren’t eaten by the birds decay, and then some birds will come and get them and get sick and die.”

But James says “varmints” are the real issue.

He said the prime reason for the ordinance is that he had received some complaints about bird feeders attracting river rats, possums and other undesirable animals that scavenge spilled bird seed on the ground in his ward, particularly in the River Estates area.

“They kind of surmised that it was coming from the rotting bird seed that’s lying on the ground, the smells of the rotting bird seed.”

“And then sometimes, neighbors will have cats, and the cats run around and catch the rats, and bring their trophies to the neighbors and drop them on the doorstep.”

“No way, shape or form, when I went to introduce this, is it any kind of restriction – even though the ordinance does say ‘restricted,’ I don’t care for that word – I’m not asking to ban bird feeders in any sort of way.

“When I received the ordinance from our law director (Paul Janis), I called him up and I said, ‘Listen, if it’s to restrict and ban bird feeders, just through the ordinance out, I don’t want anything to do with it,’ because I know how much people like watching the birds and feeding the birds. In bad weather, this is the only source of food that they can get.”    

James said he likes to sit outside and watch birds himself.

“That’s another misconception about this ordinance: I’m some kind of ogre that is asking to ban bird feeders. That is absolutely ridiculous.”

“All it is, is a maintenance issue.

“Even if the thing fails, and I have a feeling it just might – I might be the lone whistler in the woods in asking for this – I feel it’s necessary after the various complaints I’ve had.”

“Even if this fails,” James said, “Please be conscientious of the areas around your bird feeders and inside your bird feeder. Clean up the messes at least once a week. You’re doing the birds a favor.”  

“That’s all it is. Keeping the birds healthier, happier, and keeping the varmints away.”

James conceded it would be hard to enforce the ordinance.

Chris Stranahan, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise at 597 Howe Ave., said the greater dangers to birds at feeders are predators and nearby windows.

“I’ve seen nothing posted on the ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) website” about bird mortality from bad bird seed, Stranahan said. 

“You know, birds hit windows and they die. We have a very strong propensity of hawks in the area, which is a good thing because we have a lot of food – we have a lot of healthy birds that they eat,” Stranahan said. “When a hawk comes by and there’s birds on a feeder, they just scatter. They’re just scattering and they’ll hit an occasional window and they’ll break a neck and they’ll die.

“I hope that’s not construed as rotten food, because quite frankly nature is pretty smart,” Stranahan said. “Just like you wouldn’t go out and eat rotten food, I’m fairly sure that birds won’t go out and eat rotten food.

“Birds will only eat 15 percent to 20 percent of their diet out of a feeder. They have a very natural, strong instinct to find food naturally. So when you put a feeder up, you just happen to be the backyard fast food restaurant. When it gets a little more important is obviously in winter when food sources are tight.

“Many of the companies are adding milo, they’re adding cereal and grains and they’re adding corn,” Stranahan said. “This in fact brings in unwanted things because it does lay on the ground and the birds don’t always eat it.”

Stranahan recommends sunflower seeds, safflower seeds and peanuts, calling them “all real powerful foods for the birds and for the wildlife. They’re clean. Will you get shell material? Sure, you get shell material; you clean it up, you dispose of it. That’s the good and proper way to feed.

“We tell all of our customers that responsible bird feeding is important, to make sure your feeders are clean, make sure the area is cleaned up,” Stranahan said.

Veterinarian Gary Riggs told WAKR he hadn’t heard much about a problem with bird feeders spreading disease locally, though he said birds can get sick and die from decaying seed.

Birdwatchersdidgest.com has tips for maintaining a safe and healthful bird feeder. It recommends using mostly black oil sunflower seeds and safflower seeds.

Robin Anderson May 12, 2011 at 05:25 PM
"Varmints", as in a "politician" instead of "representative", do you mean? Nature's "varmints" are also attracted to such things as dumpsters or garbage cans with the right content mixture, whether they can get into them or not, ergo our reasonable and well-thought-out garbage can ordinances. Some folk are also fond of feeding stray "varmints", aka cats, leaving a treat outside for same that may or may not attract the intended beneficiary. Or what about the good folk who have a dog they keep outside? Lot's dried dog food & poop there for your consideration, eh, Jerry? varmint: a person or animal regarded as troublesome or objectionable: also used as an generalized epithet of disparagement
Thomas Sullivan May 12, 2011 at 06:14 PM
"No person shall feed, keep or harbor pigeons or other wild or domesticated birds in the City" I think it was this part in the so called 'body' of the ordinance that people might have misunderstood. now that I read it again I fully understand that my neighbors birdseed attracts rats that my other neighbors cat kills and leaves on my doorstep. yea its perfectly clear now, oh and can Jerry put a sign in your yard this november??
Bob Williams May 15, 2011 at 02:17 PM
What a bunch of (bird) crap. I'm a lifetime resident who thinks my hometown has lost it's mind when we waste time and assets (electricty) on silly legislation like this. Maybe we should put hundreds of bird feeders on The Front Street Mall during "Drinking on the River", so we can keep all of the "rats and other varmints" in one place.

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