Don’t feed the ducks
By Mark Wineka
A group of about 20 youngsters from a Salisbury summer day camp surrounded Braxton Whitaker Monday morning near the edge of City Lake.
They peppered him with questions about the ducks and geese in the water behind Whitaker.
How do you tell a boy duck from a girl duck?
Do they sometimes hang out on the island?
Do they ever fly away?
Why are there ducks and geese at City Park?
What should they be eating?
Whitaker fielded each question like a kid who has been watching the water fowl at City Park for more than a decade.
Which is exactly what he has been doing.
The 17-year-old rising senior at Salisbury High served as host for the taping Monday of a 5-minute video on how to interact with the geese and ducks at City Park.
Salisbury City Council will see the video next Tuesday, after which it will be shown periodically as a public service type of announcement on Time Warner Cable’s Access 16.
In Monday’s taping, Whitaker focused mostly on how to feed the birds ó or not feed them.
He will tell you the best thing is don’t feed them, especially the Canada geese. The geese need to keep to their migratory patterns and use City Park only as a way station, not a permanent home.
“As long as the food is going to be available, they’re going to stay,” Whitaker said.
The geese can easily became enamored with City Lake when visitors insist on feeding them bread, popcorn and crackers ó as generations of Salisburians have.
But that kind of diet hurts the birds’ health, makes them aggressive to park users and leads to a lot of goose droppings.
As some of the new signs in City Park will remind visitors, an adult goose can deposit 2 pounds of waste daily. Those goose droppings transmit disease, and waste also can increase the bacteria count in City Lake and kill fish.
If park visitors must feed the ducks and geese, Whitaker advises the use of cracked corn or birdseed only.
On the video Monday, Whitaker held up an 11-pound bag of cracked corn he purchased at Tractor Supply Co. for $5. The feed is also available at places such as Lowe’s or Wal-Mart, he said.
He gave the day campers a chance to pick up handfuls of the cracked corn to feed the park’s ducks and geese.
Spread the corn on the ground, and don’t feed the birds out of your hands, Whitaker told the kids. The beaks are like razors, he said.
Jason Parks, the city’s Web master and content manager for Access 16, served as cameraman for Monday’s taping, and Elaney Hasselmann, marketing and community relations manager for Salisbury Parks and Recreation, was director.
Whitaker, who has lived on Club House Drive across from City Park for 11 years, is making the proper feeding (and non-feeding) of the park birds his high school graduation project, so he was a natural for the Parks and Recreation video.
He expects to make bird study a continued point of emphasis in college, though he’s not sure what form it might take.
While he may not be the Bird Man of Salisbury yet, Whitaker said he walks across the street to City Park several times a day to observe the ducks and geese and make sure they’re OK.
On Sunday, he discovered a duck with a bad limp and a gash on its back and transported it to a home where it could be nursed back to health.
When Whitaker walks toward City Lake, four young geese ó Charlie, Shadow, Marco and Polo ó rush up to greet him. These friends are all about three months old.
Whitaker hatched Charlie in an incubator at home. The three other geese came to him about the same time after being abandoned in a nest by their mother after a particularly bad storm.
He transplanted the geese to City Park when they were ready to fend for themselves.
On arrival, Whitaker makes a distinctive quacking noise to which the geese immediately respond.
He thinks Shadow and Charlie are females, though it’s still difficult to tell because they’re chirping, not honking.
Depending on their diets and surroundings, geese can live as long as 20 years, Whitaker said, and he predicted that his four named geese will call City Park their lifelong home.
Whitaker hopes information such as the video will make that possible, and he was encouraged by the kids’ curiosity Monday.
“They seemed really interested to learn,” he said.