Saturday, October 9, 2010

For The Birds

I spent a lovely few hours at the beach yesterday with a friend. We decided to head to a more populated section of the beach in order to see and be seen. Some of the things we witnessed at the beach were nothing to write home about, but others prompted us to put fingers to keys and comment about the goings on.

My observations yesterday led me to this rant. I shall set the stage for you... Imagine that you are sitting at the beach on a beautiful day. The sun is hot, the sky is blue, and the water is clear and green. Your eyes gaze over the shell-strewn beach and land on... a bird. A laughing gull, to be specific. Laughing gulls are the ones that look like ordinary, but pint-sized, seagulls. Laughing gulls are quite a bit smaller than the burly herring gulls, and they have long, sturdy black beaks and beady little eyes. These birds are gifted at sniffing out purveyors of hand outs and treats. Unlike the crows, who take it upon themselves to investigate beach bags and help themselves to snacks, the laughing gulls generally wait patiently for someone to launch goodies in their direction. My admonishment to you is to Never Do That. Never, ever, feed the birds. I shall tell you why.

Wild birds need to find their own food. If we accustom them to being fed by humans, birds learn that begging is a very profitable enterprise. Fritos and Doritos are not ideal supplements to the human diet, let alone to the avian diet. Sanibel is an environmentally sensitive island, and we prefer our birds to remain self-sufficient and healthy. Feeding birds is not benefical for birds. Do Not Feed the Birds.

In addition to being detrimental to the well-being of birds, feeding birds is not good for beachgoers. Birds that are fed repeatedly will beg like no panhandlers you have ever seen. They tend to be clever and extremely persistent. Word about snacks hidden in bags is already out amongst the murders of crows. Sit at the beach long enough, and you will observe crows brazenly snatching treats from the hidden recesses of beach bags and carryalls. Rumor has it that they may also pilfer car keys and wallets.

Other birds, like the laughing gulls, have also latched on to the idea of begging. They stage themselves some distance from your location. Then, each time you look away, they take a few steps closer. If you look back at them, you will be almost positive that they moved but you will not be entirely sure. The birds look innocent enough. They tip their heads, bob their beaks, squawk at each other, and then they move closer as soon as you look away again. The birds are persistent and they are brazen. They will attempt to guilt you into tossing them a handful of peanuts or a few tortilla chips. Resist their pleas. One chip is too many, and a thousand are not enough. Before you know it, they will be sitting in your lap, pecking at your hands and demanding more, more, more.

The moral of the story? Never Feed the Birds. Shorebirds are not songbirds at the feeder. They are wild and wonderful inhabitants of the Island, and they will remain long after you have returned home. Allow them to be wild. Watch them, do not disturb them, do not feed them, and remember to enjoy the show.

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