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City of Huntsville, AL
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City of Huntsville (Huntsville, AL) - The picturesque Canadian geese in Big Spring Park are the darlings of families and visitors who enjoy regular feeding pilgrimages. The abundant supply of bread, popcorn, and snacks attract the geese on their annual migration south. In turn, the geese have dramatically increased in numbers, moved out most of the native ducks, and left the park and pond with an abundance of waste. Now they have become a nuisance and a public health hazard.

Karen Hill Sheppard, veterinarian and director of Huntsville's Animal Control, researched the problem and found many U.S. cities facing similar situations. Sheppard says the first order of business is to educate the public not to feed the geese human food. As an alternative, she proposes the City provide geese feeders throughout the park that will provide animal friendly grain.

"Our goal is to continue to enjoy our urban wildlife, but change our behavior," said Sheppard. "The feeding stations will allow those of us who find it magical to feed urban wildlife an appropriate way to continue this practice."

The Humane Society of the United States endorses the humane feeding plan for Big Spring Park. The Society further says over-enthusiastic feeding leads birds to depend on the human hand for food. Additionally, processed foods, such as bread, can be harmful to the waterfowl and result in a crippling condition called "Angel Wing."

"This encapsulates the modern approach to wildlife conflicts, which is to first understand how animals shares our urban spaces, come up with an appropriate solution that protects that animal, and then taking steps to prevent the conflict from occurring in the future," said Mindy Gilbert, Alabama state director for The HSUS.

Sheppard hopes that the public will discontinue the overfeeding and inappropriate feeding of the enormous quantities of popcorn, bread, and crackers by using the vending machines only. There are no plans or intent to create a city ordinance to ban the feeding of the wildlife in the park.

Vaulted Vending will place seven candy-type bird/fish food in the park's west side. The machines will feature an educational diagram explaining how the overfeeding of the birds and fish are causing harm to the animals and the park. The cost is 25 cents per turn, and proceeds will benefit Big Spring Park.

Sheppard says she has worked with the City's Landscape Management department to select specific locations inside the park where the machines would be the least distracting and not interfere with the beauty of the park.

"This project will only be successful with time, education, and cooperation from the Greater Huntsville community," said Sheppard. "I am very confident of its success."

Canadian geese were an endangered species in the 1970s. They have not only made a remarkable recovery, but they have become, at times, an unwelcome guest. Golf courses and city parks offer two delicious opportunities for this species - short lush grass and a Vegas buffet of human intended snacks from their admirers. The problem is their unreal, large volumes of waste and their unrelenting damage to the grassy grounds where they congregate.


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