Falmouth Shellfishing Closure Prompts Request to Halt Bird Feeding

FALMOUTH – An effort is underway in East Falmouth to move hundreds of ducks, geese and swans away from Green Pond, and town officials are asking for help from the public.

Seventeen acres of the pond’s northern section were closed to shellfishing early last week due to high levels of fecal bacteria from the birds following an order from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries – and that closure was extended to the entire pond at the end of last week.

Falmouth Deputy Director of Marine and Environmental Services Chuck Martinsen is asking residents to not feed waterfowl at the pond.

“Feeding them is really a precipitous action to get them to kind of hang out in an area like that in the large numbers that they are there,” Martinsen said.

Typical items that the public feed birds, like bread and popcorn, do not provide any nutritional importance for the animals.

“A lot of times people think that they are actually helping the animals,” Martinsen said.

“A large amount of what people feed these birds is really empty calories. It’s not stuff that is in their normal daily natural diet.”

Birds also congregate in the area due to a lack of human stress on the birds compared to more recreational activities during the summer months.

Town officials will also be using noise making devices to try to flush the waterfowl out of the area.

“Those devices are more successful in our experience with ducks and geese then they are with swans,” Martinsen said. “The swans are really tough to move.”

Plans will also include boat patrols to try to move the swans out of the area.

“Our goal is to try to get at least some portion of those bird numbers down so that the fecal coliform counts can return back to normal and that we can resume shellfishing,” Martinsen said.

Environmental conditions will also factor into how quickly the pond may be reopened.

If cold temperatures cause the pond to ice up, birds are more likely to congregate in other areas.

“If that pond ices up, we might see the [bacteria] numbers come down a little bit quicker than we anticipate,” Martinsen said.

Warmer temperatures could result in an increased waterfowl presence and make it tougher to reopen the pond to shellfishing.

Feeding the birds is not against the law, but officials are asking residents to voluntarily stop the practice.

“People’s livelihoods depend on these ponds to be open to shellfishing,” he said. “It’s not helpful for the birds to feed the birds and it’s certainly not helpful for the people who enjoy the natural resources in the area.”

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