At El Dorado Park’s duck pond last Saturday, 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske’s two-year “Winged Wonders” banner project finally took flight, ready to educate park-goers on how to best interact with the area’s birds.
“We noticed that the pond was getting really gross, really green,” Schipske said. “We had a couple of dead birds, and I started to do some research. I didn’t know that feeding the birds bread was so harmful, and I didn’t know what it did to the pond. I thought, ‘We have to do an educational effort.'”
The project is the culmination of seven years of work beginning with Schipske’s 5th District Lakes, Ponds, and Wetlands Taskforce she created in 2007. Its purpose: to teach young people about the harm caused by feeding human food to local wildlife.
“If we are going to feed them, it should be healthy things,” Schipske said. “It’s not just bread I’ve seen being fed to the birds, which is also harmful, but I’ve also seen people throwing in Doritos and McNuggets and, you know, things that aren’t good for us.”
Schipske hopes the banners will encourage visitors to avoid feeding birds snacks outside of their natural diet and to help reduce the amount of excess food in the pond. Extra food left to fester breeds bacteria and pollutes the water, according to Schipske’s staff.
Grace Earl, co-president of the El Dorado Park South Neighborhood Association, said she and some friends took an informal survey of how many bags of bread are fed to the birds an hour.
“In an hour, it was disgusting— loaves and loaves,” Earl said. “This is not a garbage disposal. People think they are the only ones giving the bread. It probably wouldn’t be a problem if it were just crumbs here and there, but it’s not.”
The excess bacteria in the ÂÂwater from overfeeding can contribute to botulism in birds, disfiguring their webbed feet and causing paralysis.
“The El Dorado Park is a huge part of Long Beach,” Schipske’s projects coordinator Haley Mizushima said. “It’s our own little Central Park, and you just see how it’s deteriorating— it’s really dirty. This is a way of trying to help the birds stay healthy, help the pond stay healthy and the ecosystem around it.”
Each banner includes a photograph of one of the feathered residents that inhabit El Dorado Park as well as information about their diet and call. Photographer Evan Butterfield took most of the 22 images used in the project.
He was recruited after Schipske’s task force found his images labeled “El Dorado Park birds” in an online database at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Butterfield started taking pictures of the local wildlife after he moved to the area from Chicago several years ago. He said his family history of both photography and bird-watching made him a good fit for the project.
“I think this is a terrific project for this park because I believe it helps people understand what they are seeing,” Butterfield said. “It’s great for children. I think it dresses up the park really nicely, too.”
The task force started focusing on the “Winged Wonders” project about two years ago. Initially, Schipske and her team wanted to discourage visitors from feeding the birds altogether but said she realized that they had to be realistic about human nature. Even Schipske used to bring her daughters to the pond to feed the ducks.
“It’s something that is such a big tradition in Long Beach, to come and feed the birds,” Mizushima said. “I mean, I did it when I was little, too; you don’t know it’s bad for them.”
Schipske’s next concern was vandalism. Her team decided that banners, high off the ground, would be safer than an informational kiosk. A cellphone-tour feature was also added to the park. Residents can call the number printed on the banners for more information about the area’s birds and hear their calls.
“I don’t think people understand who these birds are, and that could be part of the problem,” Schipske said. “We can start educating them that they are wild and they are unique. They need to be able to forage for natural foods.”
As part of the project, the team also put together an educational children’s coloring book featuring animated renderings of birds in the park.
“We want to bring the kids over— that’s where the behavior will change,” Schipske said. “I think it’s just a slow, gradual process, but we’re really proud of it.”
Partners of Parks, the Port of Long Beach, Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, Waste Management, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the El Dorado Audubon Society fully sponsored the project. No tax dollars were used.