Q I was recently at the beach when a nearby couple started feeding fries to the seagulls. I asked them to stop, and they acted put out. Was I unreasonable?
A Considering how fast a gull's digestive system can turn french fries into a hairdo-ruining bird bomb, I'd say your request was an act of self-defense. You prevented an avian air raid more harrowing than a Hitchcock scene. Self-preservation aside, your actions also protected the birds. Sure, they can be annoying picnic thieves, but gulls are still wildlife, with bodies evolved to run on an Atkins Diet of fish, rodents, and insects—not leftover fries. In fact, human food can make many wild animals as sick as a youngster the day after Halloween. And just like a kid, they'll want more.
Given this sad transformation of carefree critters into fast-food junkies, it's important to speak up. A polite explanation works with most people, but in cases like yours, it may be easier to ask a ranger to intercede, especially in national parks, where feeding wildlife is illegal. No, no one will get hauled off to prison for tossing chips to a chipmunk. But after talking with a ranger, perhaps they'll take the park service motto to heart: "Don't feed the bears. Don't super-size the birds."
This article was first published in January 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.