Feeding the birds during cold weather months is a traditional activity for many Americans.Simply filling up cute or at least sturdy feeders in Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania can come with a very steep price tag. One senior citizen couple was recently shocked when a zoning board inspector showed up on their property and informed them they were subject to a $1,000-per-day fine for feeding wild birds in their own yard.
That’s what Bill and Diane Ganssle accidentally discovered. The couple was recently informed that their bird feeder did not meet code. Yes, you read that correctly, apparently some American towns are now even regulating bird feeder construction and use on private property. The bird feeder used by the couple is not squirrel proof, and therefore a violation of zoning laws.By feeding birds as they’ve done for approximately 25 years, they were “harboring rodents,” The Morning Call reported.
Diane Ganssle had this to say about the bird feeder ban in her Pennsylvania town:
We have never seen a rat or even a mouse in our back yard as a result of the seeds that fall to the ground as most seed is eaten by ground feeding birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.
In December Abraham Hoffner, a code enforcement agent in the town, informed the retirees that their 12 or so bird feeders were not in compliance with Ordinance 247-3, which says feeders must be enclosed to seeds won’t fall to the ground. Bill Ganssle was understandably stunned by the news, took all the bird feeders down and replaced them with metal containers. The only bird feeder which remained on the property was a 3-foot-long tube style feeder.
“We hung our feeder in our crab apple tree and have once again enjoyed birds feasting on the seeds,” Diane Ganssle said. “We also enjoyed watching the squirrels in the catch basin, now able to reach the feeder more easily, as well as dumping anything in the catch basin onto the ground when leaving.”
Several weeks later, though, the couple had a message on their answering machine from the code enforcement agent, Lehigh Valley Ramblings reported. A neighbor had snitched earlier, and had snitched again, even taking pictures and videoing the feeder. Hoffner informed them that the new tube feeder also was also a violation of the local ordinance. In order for the one remaining bird feeder to be hung legally in the yard it had to be outfitted with a catch basin at the bottom and a squirrel-proof top.
Bill Ganssle had this to say about the bird feeder ordinance:
The basin alone, which is about 18 inches in diameter, cost $54 dollars. And I am required to empty the basin at least once a day, but sometimes I do it twice … sometimes I’m out there six, eight times a day chasing the squirrels. We had the trees on our property cut and thinned so they wouldn’t attract squirrels and their nests.
After all the tireless and expensive efforts to curtail the squirrel population in Bethlehem Township, the couple finally learned that the entire ordeal was the result of a single complaint about deer; a neighbor reportedly called the code enforcement officer to complain that the bird feeders had been attracting deer.
Diane Ganssle said there are deer in the area even without bird feeders.
“There is enough government control in this country,” she said. “We don’t need to have rules for birdfeeding in our township that will ultimately cause our birds and wildlife to suffer.”
Bethlehem Township Commissioner Mike Hudak just happens to live less than a mile away from the Ganssle property. During the meeting when Diane asked for an alteration to the bird feeder statute, Hudak said, “There are deer everywhere. I’ll be more than happy to come over and take a look at this.” Lehigh Valley resident and Commissioner Martin Zaworski called the ordinance “silly” as well. Commissioners President Tom Nolan concurred, agreeing that flaws were present in the ordinance. “The board will get together and review this ordinance. There is something quite valid in what you are saying and we do feel compassion for the animals.”
Diane Ganssle stated after the public meeting that the code enforcement officer came back out to the property and approved the tube bird feeder. Before signing off on the device, Hoffner took both photos and videos of the yard.It sounds like common sense might prevail, but how did such an outlandish law which violates the property rights of owners ever make it onto the books in the first place? A homeowner’s association in Nevada also banned bird feeders. Hawaii has a law against feeding feral birds, and Bangor, Maine, approved a similar ordinance that bans excessive bird feeding.
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