Feed­ing seag­ulls not just reck­less, but po­ten­tially costly

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

This week­end’s un­sea­son­ably warm weather turned our thoughts to­ward sum­mer­time and the beach — specif­i­cally new beach rules and reg­u­la­tions, by far our fa­vorite kind of law­mak­ing.

Usu­ally, we fo­cus on Ocean City, Mary­land’s, ini­tia­tives; there have been some doozies. Like when coun­cil mem­bers there passed an “emer­gency” or­di­nance to ban women from bar­ing breasts on the beach, con­cerned the top­less tatas would of­fend fam­i­lies. Or when the town tried to un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally limit when and where street per­form­ers could en­ter­tain for earn­ings. And who can for­get the “No pro­fan­ity, please” signs posted in 2014 to get beach go­ers to cut down on curs­ing? The prim pro­posal was never put into law, likely be­cause law­mak­ers knew it wouldn’t pass the First Amend­ment test, even if we all ac­tu­ally want it put into prac­tice.

But this week, we’re look­ing fur­ther north, to Re­hoboth Beach, Delaware, home of 2017’s con­tro­ver­sial “no tents or shad­ing de­vices (other than um­brel­las and baby shel­ters)” or­di­nance. The Board of Com­mis­sion­ers for the pop­u­lar va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion is set to vote as early as Fri­day on amend­ments to Chap­ter 88 of the Mu­nic­i­pal Code of the City of Re­hoboth Beach, also known as the an­i­mal chap­ter.

Among the rec­om­men­da­tions is a re­vi­sion that would ban live­stock from liv­ing within city lim­its, which is fine with us. We never re­ally got the goat yoga craze or those back­yard chicken coops that ur­ban faux farm­ers so loved (un­til they didn’t, dump­ing roost­ers and hens past their egg-lay­ing prime at shel­ters by the thou­sands).

Re­hoboth com­mis­sion­ers are also look­ing to shorten pet leashes to a max­i­mum of six feet (from eight) and to make it il­le­gal — and ex­pen­sive — to not scoop your dog’s poop: pun­ish­able by a $250 fine. That seems a bit steep, but it’s a bar­gain com­pared to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where fines can run as high as $2,000.

But we di­gress. The pro­posal we’re most abuzz about is this one: Those caught feed­ing — or caus­ing or per­mit­ting to be fed — seag­ulls will face a fine of be­tween $5 and $50 for a first of­fense, and up to $200 for sub­se­quent of­fenses.

Hal­lelu­jah.

Not only are Thrash­ers fries detri­men­tal to the birds’ health (and, let’s face it, yours), feed­ing them to gulls only em­bold­ens them to seek more food — of­ten ag­gres­sively, grab­bing it right from a per­son’s fingers.

Just look what’s hap­pened in the U.K., where thou­sands of peo­ple re­port seag­ull at­tacks each week. Seag­ulls snatched a chi­huahua from a woman’s yard over the sum­mer and held an el­derly cou­ple hostage in their home for six days, fly­ing at them each time they went out­side.

“It might sound ridicu­lous, but I be­lieve it won’t be long be­fore a baby be­comes the next vic­tim of Bri­tain’s in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive seag­ulls,” Worces­ter City Coun­cil Mem­ber Alan Amos told the U.K. Sun news­pa­per.

In Au­gust, Jersey Shore of­fi­cials dealt with the prob­lem by hir­ing trained rap­tors — four hawks, two fal­cons and an owl — at a cost of $2,100 a day to scare off ag­gres­sive gulls at­tack­ing vis­i­tors along the board­walk’s food stalls. The ef­fort ap­par­ently worked well enough for the city to ex­tend the hours the rap­tors were on pa­trol, but this hardly seems like a long-term so­lu­tion.

Nor is the an­i­mal cru­elty ap­proach em­braced by some. In 2016, for ex­am­ple, a Cana­dian dad re­port­edly en­cour­aged his teen daugh­ter to bait the birds in Re­hoboth, then bash their brains in with a shovel. And just this month, some­one in Mary­land ap­par­ently dumped a Dol­lar Tree bag of popped pop­corn into a Lau­rel park­ing lot one morn­ing to lure the birds, then run them over with a car, killing 10.

We don’t wish death on the sky rats, just a lit­tle deco­rum. Ul­ti­mately, it may be that there’s just not much that can be done to keep the gulls from for­ag­ing for food on the beach, when there’s so much of it around, from board­walk of­fer­ings to packed pic­nics and ever-present tod­dler snacks.

But the least we can do is hold ac­count­able the peo­ple who en­cour­age the bad be­hav­ior. That means no more toss­ing of bread crumbs or pos­ing for self­ies while wag­ging treats in the air — for any­one: Seals, tur­tles and wa­ter­fowl are in­cluded in the pro­posal.

For the birds who are al­ready em­bold­ened by reck­less feed­ing, here’s some­thing you could try to save your­self in the fu­ture: A new Univer­sity of Ex­eter study sug­gests that star­ing at gulls might make them less likely to ap­proach.

Let us know how it goes.

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