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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

A Chicago seagull eyes some tempting scraps at this year’s Taste. Some say they don’t mind the birds’ presence. But according to experts, they present a serious health risk. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

A Chicago seagull eyes some tempting scraps at this year’s Taste. Some say they don’t mind the birds’ presence. But according to experts, the winged creatures present a serious health risk. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicago – Over a million people loaded Michigan’s lakefront to observe the city’s freedom and fireworks celebration this Independence Day. But thousands more attended. And they didn’t spend any cash.

Taste of Chicago attracted thousands, if not millions, of seagulls, pigeons and other birds. The birds swooped, waddled and pecked their way through Grant Park. Scraps of litter and people offering food drew them in droves.

DeVry student and Columbia native Carlos Quimbay attended the Taste with his girlfriend, Marina Calbo from Ecuador. Quimbay said he was getting some scraps ready to feed the birds, but Calbo told him not to feed them.

“Don’t give them anything because I know they have their own form of finding food in the trees and in the ocean,” Calbo said. “That’s why there’s so many of them. I think it is inhumane for us to throw food at them. Look at how they fight.”

Chicagoans Alah Shatat and Ann Ruyz attended the Taste July 1. Shatat and Ruyz said they saw birds swooping closely to people’s heads. But they felt the birds had a right to be there.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s part of life,” Shatat said.

Sanitation Department worker Gerard Ortense, who worked at the Taste, said they don’t have a problem with the birds.

“It’s the people that are feeding the birds is why they’re flying around like that,” Ortense said.

Chicago Department of Environment Spokesperson Larry Merritt said they do have signs posted on some of the beaches asking people not to feed the birds. Merritt said it’s a public health concern.

It’s what the birds leave behind that’s dangerous, according to Merritt. While the birds feast on human trash and hand-outs, they defecate more frequently in the same areas.

More bird poop at the beaches isn’t good because there is a thought that there’s a link to E. coli because the E. coli found at the beaches was avian,” Merritt said.

When asked if something should be done to stop people from feeding the birds, Ortense said, “What are you going to do to prevent it? They’re seagulls; they’re all over the place. It’s kind of hard to regulate them.”

Chicago Ornithological Society Secretary Randi Doeker, who has volunteered at the organization for eight years, said people should not feed the birds because they need to find food on their own, and feeding them alters their behavior. Some birds become more aggressive with people.

“But I don’t think that is specific to the Taste” Doeker said. “We share the same world, and we aren’t a predator species from their perspective. We may be a rude species, but we’re not a predator. We’re not chasing them down and trying to kill them.”

Additionally, laws protect some birds, Doeker said. There is an international treaty, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the United States signed that protects the seagulls because they are migratory birds from the Western Hemisphere. However, the law does not protect the pigeons because they are not a native species. The pigeons are from Europe, Doeker said.

“We don’t want them, just like we don’t want plants that don’t belong in North America because they don’t belong in the ecosystem,” Doeker said. “They take over and they dominate incorrectly. They are not contributing positively to the ecosystem.”

Doeker said House Sparrows are a non-native species that live in building crevasses, and have ousted other indigenous birds.

“They’re very aggressive, not with people, but with other birds,” Doeker said. “And they will prevent real Western Hemisphere birds from nesting in an area. Therefore, we get all these little House Sparrows instead of having the diverse collection of birds that we should have.”

The large number of Chicago birds living off human trash and hand-outs might seem innocuous. However, some birds pose a serious risk in the form of E. coli. Additionally, allowing non-native species such as pigeons and House Sparrows to flourish evicts native birds essential to our ecosystem’s natural balance.

One Taste attendee had a much simpler view of the birds.

“I just pray they don’t shit on me,” Quimbay said.

Two Taste of Chicago diners are joined by a clutch of seagulls along Lake Michigan. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Two Taste of Chicago diners are joined by a clutch of seagulls along Lake Michigan. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Copyright 2008

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