Editor’s note: “Murmurations” is an original short story written for BirdWire by Christine Goff, author of the Birdwatcher Mystery series. Find these books online and in bookstores nationwide, and visit christinegoff.com.
Previously: Something smells fishy in Troutdale as town councilman Harvey Todd attempts to ban the feeding of wildlife, including birds. Neveah Porter, on her first reporting assignment after a 30-plus year hiatus from journalism, suspects there is more to the story, given the lack of public notice or input on the proposed ban, and the councilman’s determination.
In the end, the “Prohibition of Feeding of Wild Animals” within the town limits vote was tabled. While it seemed clear the council members were inclined to pass the ordinance, it also seemed clear the majority wanted to give the townspeople a chance to weigh in. The matter was scheduled to be decided by a raised-hand vote of all those present at the town council meeting in October.
After the meeting was adjourned, Neveah walked forward to solicit a quote from Todd Harvey. Before she could reach him, Sybil and Tootie swooped in and started peppering him with questions.
“Ladies,” Harvey said, raising his hands. “Save your breath. My mind is made up on this matter.”
He strode away, but the women stayed on his heels, like two Steller’s jays mobbing a predator. Cocking their heads this way and that, they chased him up the far aisle, keeping up a running commentary and instigating others in the crowd to join in.
Neveah watched for a moment, then turned around and headed straight for Meryl Snyder.
“Not now, Neveah. I’m late getting out of here as it is.”
“I only have a few questions. It’s for my report.”
Meryl eyed her curiously. “Dish.”
“I just started a new job with The Gazette,” Neveah explained. “Town council meetings are part of my beat. Any chance I can get a copy of the proposed ordinance?”
“Talk to Pam.”
Neveah nodded. Pam Reynolds was the town clerk. “Can you tell me who proposed it?”
Meryl picked up her papers from the table and stuffed them into her briefcase. “Two concerned citizens brought up the idea with Todd after the incident with the bears on Whittier Gulch, followed by the infestation of magpies and crows at the south end of town.”
Neveah knew about the bears.
A young bear, attracted by a birdfeeder, had ventured into town, and eventually the Division of Wildlife was called. Their first step was educating the neighborhood on attractants—easy-access garbage cans, food left out, birdfeeders.
Next, a DOW “bear sitter” was assigned to keep an eye on the culprit and alert residents of its movement. After three days, when the bear didn’t move on, other tactics were employed. Residents tried scaring off the bear by using air horns, banging on pots and pans, and yelling. The DOW tried using nonlethal, rubber buckshot with hazing rounds to the bear’s backside. Eventually the bear was tranquilized and relocated.
Everyone hoped it wouldn’t come back. With Colorado’s unofficial “two-strike” policy, a bear can be moved only once. If it returns and has to be recaptured—and most often they do—the bear would be put down.
Neveah knew it wasn’t as inhumane as it sounded. Bears were smart. Why wouldn’t they take advantage of a free food source? When they become habituated to people and no longer show fear, that’s when they become dangerous. As one DOW agent had said, “If there was no reason for the bears to stay in town, they would never come up to bat.”
Score one point for a ban on feeding.
The congregating corvids, however, were another matter.
“Where do the magpies and crows gather?” Neveah asked.
Meryl cocked an eyebrow. “Where don’t they?”
The next morning, Neveah hand-carried her write-up into the offices of the Troutdale Gazette, hoping to talk to Matt. She found him perched on a stool in the layout cubicle.
“You should have emailed it.”
“I wanted to talk to you about doing a story.” She brought him up to speed on the meeting and the proposed ordinance. “Mind if I look into it?”
“Knock yourself out.”
Her next stop had been the town hall, where she picked up a draft copy of the ordinance from Pam.
Skimming the document, several key components jumped out.
First, the stated intent was to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community and its wildlife. The latter was a key draw of living in Troutdale. In addition to the fox, deer, elk, bears, and mountain lions traveling through their mountain property, Neveah and Pete had documented 51 bird species visiting their feeders. Countless more birds roosted in the trees and nearby areas, never coming into eat but adding to the color.
Second, the ordinance stated it has been established that overfeeding birds and other wild animals increased the potential for damage to public parks and private property. Here, Meryl’s allegation about the corvid invasion was used as a primary example. Problems cited included bird feces clogging the pool filter at the public swimming pool, and contaminating children’s toys, and birds hanging around the neighborhood. When Neveah read that the birds had also pecked open Easter eggs hidden in yards to get to the candy, she laughed.
Jumping down on the page, she noticed the ordinance didn’t define “overfeeding.” However, it did state that code enforcement would oversee the ordinance. The first visit would be educational; a second visit would be a notice of demand to the offender to remedy the problem; and a third visit would result in a citation. The judge would be able to apply up to $2,650 in fines per day or up to one year in jail.
That seemed a pretty steep punishment for hanging a few feeders and suet, thought Neveah, folding the document and slipping it into her purse. It definitely warranted some further investigation.