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Ask Chicagoist: Feed the Birds?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Oct 26, 2006 1:30PM

Hello. I have two bird feeders, one for wild bird food and one for finches. I have been getting alot of golden finches that I love to watch. Well, sometimes when the seeds fall to the ground in my grass I get 1 or 2 pigeons and I found out my neighbors called the ward office on me but the ward did nothing about it. I was wondering how this pigeon law works. I mean, sometimes the pigeons just come. I am not feeding them. Can I get in trouble for this? Thanks for your time.

2006_10_askpigeons.jpgReally? Your neighbors called your alderman's office based on one or two pigeons eating some leftovers? Is your neighbor Tippi Hedren? We aren't the biggest fans of pigeons either, but that seems a little excessive. You wouldn't lie to Chicagoist and under-represent the number of pigeons chowing down at your buffet, would you? We should hope not.

Our first bit of advice would be to try to keep the pigeons from coming in the first place. Just be diligent and keep on top of the messes the finches are leaving behind (perhaps on purpose?) for their pigeon friends. Don't let the fallen seed pile up, luring more and more pigeons to your yard. And if you're really serious it's just a couple of pigeons, maybe have a quick chat with your neighbor and explain you're doing everything you can to keep the pigeons away all while still feeding and watching the more socially acceptable birds.

Secondly, assuming you don't have a big sign up proclaiming "All Pesky Pigeons Please Eat Here," you're not likely to actually get into trouble. Intent does mean something, and we're pretty certain that law enforcement officials know that pigeons sometimes don't follow directions and are going to eat things lying around on the ground, and you can't completely alter your lifestyle in order to starve a particular species of bird. We talked to a representative at our alderman's office, and they insisted that any accidental feeding really wouldn't be a problem.

But in terms of the oft-quoted rule about feeding pigeons, when we started doing research we were surprised that we couldn't find any official reference to this ordinance. Could rumors of this so-called law have been perpetuated by the anti-pigeon underground?

There is a section in Chicago's Municipal Code (7-12-387) all about the restrictions on pigeons. However, while the code bans owning, harboring, or otherwise aiding pigeons -- "it shall be unlawful for any person to import, sell, own, keep or otherwise possess any live pigeon ..." (otherwise possess?!) -- there is nothing that specifically calls out feeding (without said possession). It even goes so far as to call out the construction or maintenance of "... any coop or cote that is, or may be used for the storage, maintenance or sheltering of any live pigeon within any area designated as a residence district." But for all this anti-pigeon sentiment, there's still not a word to be found about feeding them.

Again, the diligent workers at our alderman's office came through with some information. They pointed out section 7-28-020 in the Municipal Code, which states that "... all necessary control measures shall be used to effectivly minimize, or eliminate when possible, the presence of rodents, roaches and other vermin and insects ..." Pigeons being considered (by most, anyway) a general nuisance, this may be the key to the rumor. However, once we looked a little closer, we noticed that section was very specifically referring to "food establishments, ... food-transporting vehicles and vending machines." Well, that has nothing to do with the little old lady feeding the pigeons in Grant Park, although we can see how the ordinance could be stretched to include any aiding and abetting of pigeons.

Currently, we're not completely convinced there actually is an ordinance banning the feeding of pigeons, and we've been diligently searching for weeks now. We just can't find anything specific telling us that it does exist, so unless an astute reader can point out something we've missed, we're going to say the casual feeding, while probably not the best idea, isn't actually illegal in Chicago.

So pull up your favorite bird-watching chair and a well-worn copy of A Field Guide to the Birds, and keep filling those feeders, pigeons be damned.

Image via Zesmerelda

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