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Article posted: 8/17/2013 8:01 AM

New cards discourage duck-feeding on Naperville Riverwalk

By Marie Wilson

If a Naperville Park District police officer approaches you with a business card, he's not passing out his phone number.

He's distributing a new River Wildlife Card encouraging Riverwalk visitors not to feed ducks or geese.

The park district printed 500 of the cards and started handing them out this week to teach people that tossing scraps of bread, popcorn or other human food to ducks and geese can harm both the animals and their natural environment.

The double-sided cards encourage people to follow a park district ordinance and signs stenciled into the lower-level Riverwalk saying "DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE." The text on the cards says refraining from feeding ducks and geese helps the animals stay healthy, protects them from predators, aggression and overcrowding, and helps the river stay clean.

"The food people are giving them is not nutritionally sound for waterfowl," said Emily Milleville with the DuPage Forest Preserve District's Willowbrook Wildlife Center. "It's far away from what they naturally would be eating."

Duckweed, which Milleville describes as "green stuff growing on the edges of ponds," is among the foods omnivorous waterfowl prefer to eat. So are algae, insects, small seeds and grains and fish or fish eggs -- all plentiful in places like the west branch of the DuPage River.

"There's more than enough food in the natural environment for them to eat," Milleville said. "It's a perfect environment for them to live in; they don't need our help."

Feeding waterfowl can cause them to congregate and become more susceptible to disease, Milleville said. It also can attract predators to the area and dirty the water, the River Wildlife Cards say. Basically, too much free bread equals too much goose poop.

"When they're defecating so much, it can cause excess nutrients in the water, and that causes algae blooms," Milleville said.

Naperville park police officers such as Patrick Ryan and David Ahlemeyer say people they've met this week have been receptive to the River Wildlife Cards and their message.

"People are sad they can't feed the ducks, but mostly they understand," Ryan said.

Distributing the handouts this week even resulted in a funny moment for Ryan. He said a group of kids along the Riverwalk asked him to participate in a "rap battle" with them. Ryan told the kids he couldn't rap, but he handed them a River Wildlife Card and encouraged them to freestyle about reasons not to feed ducks and geese. They did and he laughed.

Ignoring the warnings not to feed wildlife breaks a park district ordinance and could result in a fine for violators, but Naperville park police Chief Carl Schnibben said such a penalty rarely would be imposed.

"Our policy is if we can talk to somebody and correct their actions without penalizing them, we would much rather do that rather than issuing tickets," Schnibben said. "If we can get compliance in a polite and friendly fashion, that's our goal."

Schnibben said park police will pass out the cards on an as-needed basis, interacting with the public when people are feeding animals along the Riverwalk or in other parks but largely letting users enjoy the natural areas at their leisure.

The idea for the business card-sized handouts came from Naperville resident Stephanie Penick, who publishes Positively Naperville and serves on the Riverwalk Foundation, among other community groups.

She said once she learned bread and human foods are bad for ducks and geese, she started noticing how often people feed waterfowl along the Riverwalk and how much of a problem it is. The business cards are a simple and discreet way to teach people about the consequences of their actions and encourage them to let ducks and geese fend for themselves, she said.

The cards also encourage parents to teach children about the foods ducks and geese eat naturally and provide a QR code for people to learn more online.

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