Please don't feed the ducks, or geese, or seagulls. The City of Tallahassee is ramping up that message for its park visitors.
Countless people enjoy the small lakes and ponds that are a feature of so many of the city's parks. The problem, said Director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Affairs Ashley Edwards, is that so many waterfowl like the parks, too.
"And it presents a problem for us, because they poop and they like to eat and then they poop some more. And then if you get folks feeding them, they stay because they've got plenty of food with people feeding them and they don't go away."
Edwards said all of that guano severely pollutes the bodies of water and the surrounding shores. And as cute as these birds might seem, they can be quite nasty.
"They can be very aggressive if they think you've got food. They're very protective of their nests in mating season and they can hurt people."
Now Edwards revealed there are large new signs going up around the lakes and ponds in city parks asking visitors not to feel the waterfowl.
"It's almost a rite of passage for those who have grown up in Tallahassee to go feed the ducks at Lake Ella. But what we're trying to do is educate folks that it really doesn't help (the waterfowl) to feed them and that really they'll take care of themselves. You don't have to worry that they won't have enough food, they will find enough food and they'll move on to places where they'll have enough food."
There's actually a long-standing city ordinance against feeding wildlife, including wild birds. But Edwards insisted violators won't face either a ticket or jail time. "We are not interested in going out and imposing any kind of fine or citation on grandma and the grandkids who are out feeding the ducks. We're simply trying to educate folks. It's not an enforcement issue; just an education issue."
For those who absolutely can't restrain themselves, there is an option. Park visitors can provide the birds with healthier food, instead of stale bread and other highly processed products. Jennifer Taylor from FAMU's Small Farms Program and Extension Service has a produce stand at Lake Ella twice a week.
"The market offers the animals - and by that I mean the ducks - the opportunity to enjoy organically grown produce and veggies and seasonal produce throughout the year," she noted.
Yakived Artzi and her husband own Artzi Organic Veggies. She gives the birds leftover greeens from their stand at Lake Ella.
"We feed them vegetables and we are an organic grower, so we feed them good quality, no pesticides or chemicals."
Wild bird feeds are also available. Although the best advice is still to let the ducks, geese and gulls, cute as they may be, forage for themselves.