Laurie and I shared the absolute joy and wonder that comes from making sure the birds in Central Park have nutritious seeds to help them get through tough times in an artificial environment. We shared the wonder of having a hungry titmouse or sparrow alight on our hands to choose a seed. We took pleasure in a tradition of feeding birds and squirrels that has existed ever since people first sat on a park bench. It is a tradition that connects us in a spiritual way to nature and helps us navigate the often hectic and distressing world outside the parks. I have seen the joy on a child's face as she is encouraged to feed a duck at the Pond. I have seen the love radiate from the park regulars who toss peanuts to the squirrels in the Ramble.
But now the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation wants to change the Rules of the City of New York to make what Laurie used to do and what I and so many other people do every day — feed the squirrels and birds — a violation subject to a fine and possibly a day in jail.* I truly despair that there are people in the department who look at me when a bird takes a seed out of my hand and sees someone to be punished along with public defecators and urinators.
Section 1-04(g) of the Rules of the City of New York now reads:
(g) Abuse of park animals.
(1) Except, pursuant to a permit for trapping issued by the Department, no person shall molest, chase, harass, injure, wound, trap, hunt, shoot, throw missiles at, kill or remove any animal, any nest, or the eggs of any amphibian, reptile or bird, or otherwise harm or intentionally take actions that could reasonably harm any animal, nest, or such eggs. Further, no person shall knowingly buy, receive, have in his or her possession, sell or give away any such animal or egg taken from or killed within the jurisdiction of the Department, including any zoo area. Violation of this paragraph constitutes a misdemeanor.
(2) No person shall feed animals in any park (including any zoo area) except unconfined squirrels and birds, and where specifically authorized by the Commissioner. The Commissioner may also designate certain areas where all feeding of animals is prohibited. It shall be a violation of these rules to feed animals in any area where such feeding is prohibited.
The change requested is the removal of the words “except unconfined squirrels and birds.” It is clear that this rule change is intended to stop the feeding of birds and squirrels, since the feeding of all other animals is already prohibited. It is also clear that the word change is unnecessary, since the Commissioner can now prohibit all feeding in designated areas.
It must be noted that I have received information from others, including a representative of the Parks Department Wildlife Unit, that the feeders in Central Park at Evodia Fields as well as feeders in other city parks will be exempted from this rule change. If so, why is this rule change necessary? Blanket rules with exceptions are unenforceable and more harmful than useful.
This proposed rule change is unnecessary and should be denied.
The NYC.gov Web site offers the following objections to feeding birds and squirrels in our parks. I offer my response below each objection.
Reduce food sources available to rats and other rodents, which are attracted to all types of food in properties maintained by NYC Parks.
Obviously, if you prohibit feeding squirrels, you are reducing the food sources for the “other rodents” (squirrels, after all, are rodents, also known as “bushy-tailed rats”). When you feed a squirrel a peanut, odds are that that squirrel will eat it or store it. It is highly unlikely that the squirrel will share that nut with a rat.
The Parks Department offers no studies or science to support the assertion that eliminating bird seed and peanuts will reduce the rat population by any significant amount. Feeding bird seed to birds or peanuts to squirrels is not providing the bulk of the food sources for the rats. The biggest food sources are the trash and food brought in by humans for humans and their dogs, and the incredible resourcefulness of rats, animals that will find food to survive, with or without bird seed and peanuts.
Let's address the real problem with the rats in our parks, one the department resists facing. There are better ways to deal with the rats, such as using dry ice to kill them (see my blog entries in July 2016, Oh, Rats! Let's Hope the Dry Ice Works and The Rat Patrol in Tompkins Square Park), or installing the “big belly” trash containers, which also help reduce the trash food sought by the very resourceful raccoons. Following the tourists around, picking up the fallen hot dogs, pretzels, pizza slices, and other foods they leave around our parks or requiring picnickers to clean up after themselves would be more effective ways to “reduce food sources available to rats.”