From time immemorial, humans have fed birds.
Elderly people sit on benches, surrounded by feathered friends.
Grandparents buy popcorn and take their grandchildren to the park.
Beachgoers give in to temptation and toss a crumb to the gliding seagulls.
There is something pleasing about the feeding of birds. Maybe it's the interaction with creatures that otherwise shy away. It is a time to commune with another class of animal, to say, with the scattering of seed: Look, we're not all bad guys.
You would think that the city of St. Petersburg would be an outstanding place to feed birds. After all, the city enjoys a wonderful, park-lined waterfront, and an extensive system of parks throughout its limits.
Furthermore, not to be stereotypical here, but if bird-feeding is especially a pastime of retirees or grandparents, then you must agree that some members of those classes of person exist in St. Petersburg.
And yet, bird-feeding-wise, the jig is up.
I call your attention to the emergency ordinance passed Thursday by the St. Petersburg City Council. Here is the actual title:
AN ORDINANCE AMENDING CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG CODE SECTION 4-4, ACTS TENDING TO CAUSE CONGREGATIONS OF ANIMALS; MAKING IT AN OFFENSE TO CAUSE THE ASSEMBLY OF BIRDS OR ANIMALS IN CITY PARKS; CREATING AN EXCEPTION FOR FEEDING SMALL AMOUNTS OF FOOD TO AQUATIC BIRDS PRESENT ON PONDS, LAKES OR OTHER PERMANENT BODIES OF WATER WITHIN CITY PARKS; PROVIDING FOR SEVERABILITY; PROVIDING FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE.
The news is just as grim as it sounds. Effective immediately, you may not feed birds on public ground in St. Petersburg without a permit. Which birds? Non-aquatic birds, mostly. Let us turn to the language of the ordinance for further guidance:
"Aquatic birds. Shall mean wild and domestic birds that live primarily in or on bodies of water, including but not limited to: ducks, geese, herons, moorhens, egrets, ospreys, ibis, redwing blackbirds, gallinules, anhingas and gulls.
"Birds. Shall mean all non-aquatic birds as defined above."
You may still throw stuff into the water to feed aquatic birds, provided that you do not throw more than a half-pound of it a day. (The ordinance is silent on exactly how police are to figure out how much you have thrown.) But woe to the citizen who dares to feed pigeons from a park bench.
Please notice that the ordinance does allow you to get a bird-feeding permit. Examples of this, I am told, might be for a magician's show, or some exhibition.
The reason for the City Council's "emergency" ordinance is that for some time now, some fellow has been making a nuisance of himself by feeding and attracting large numbers of birds. However, the council was flummoxed at how to deal with the problem. So it banned bird-feeding for the entire city's population. It is a good thing the City Council is not in charge of apprehending bank robbers; we all would be in grave danger.
The council's vote was unanimous. The city's attorney, John Wolfe, proposed a lesser course: Could not a citizen be restricted to, say, four ounces of bird feed per four hours? But the council was insistent, especially member Richard Kriseman, in whose district the offensive bird-feeding occurs.
And so the emergency ordinance exists until Dec. 13. By then, the city hopes to draw up a permanent ordinance. Perhaps by then the council can think up additional nitwitted ways to impose on innocent people.
I suppose it would be too much to ask that the council, in drafting its ordinance, also outlaw the feeding of City Council members, especially the feeding of them with tax dollars in skybox settings. But hope springs eternal.
_ You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxlersptimes.com.