The Widder Curry Wants to Know Why Feeding the Birds Is Illegal?

by on August 4, 2020 · 14 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

By Judi Curry

Several days ago I read a report on “Next Door” from someone stating that it was not legal to feed the birds in the neighborhood.  I looked around my backyard and my 6 hummingbird feeders, my five bird-seed stations, and the plate of peanuts I put out to keep the crows at bay and I wondered if my life was going to change – again – for the worst.

I decided to do some research to find out if the information was correct.  And you know what? It is! Damn!

First I contacted the “Fish and Game” department here in San Diego. I asked the nice woman that answered the phone if there was someone there that could answer my question. She said that she could. I asked her “ . . . is it illegal to feed the birds” and without hesitation she told me “yes.”

Then I asked her if it was illegal to feed the humming birds and she said she would have to check.  When she came back on the phone, she told me that I should contact “Tim Daly” from the Wildlife department in Sacramento.  He is the public information specialist and he should know the answer.

After several communications with Tim, he sent me some information as to why one should not feel the wildlife.  I had trouble thinking of the birds as “wildlife” after reading the reports, but they are part of that classification.  Basically, the reasons for not feeding them, besides it being against the law follow:

The Department recommends not feeding birds for the same reasons we use for all wildlife:

  • It congregates birds together and can spread disease
  • It can disrupt normal migration patterns
  • It contributes to malnutrition of birds because the food items typically have not usable nutritional value
  • It attracts non-target animals such as rodents and predators
  • When humans add food to the wild for one species, it often brings others that weren’t intended to be the consumer of that food.

(a)  If it is against the law, then why is bird seed sold at places like PetSmart, PetCo, Costco, Amazon, etc.

(b)  If it is against the law why can I buy bird feeders, including humming bird feeders at PetSmart, PetCo, Amazon, etc.

(c)  Why are people encouraged to have feeders available for the birds if it is against the law?

(d)  If we were fined for feeding the birds, would the places that sell the food be liable for selling us something that is illegal?

(e) What is the penalty for feeding the birds?  It is listed as a “misdemeanor” but what does that really entail?  A fine? Jail time?

Just a few years ago, there was an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune that told us how to go about setting up a feeder. ((

Also a few years ago there was an article from the San Diego Humane Society telling us the best way to set up a humming bird feeder. (

So what is the answer? Basically it is a misdemeanor to feed the wild life in California.  Basically it is a misdemeanor to feed every wild animal in California including the birds. And even though the activity of feeding these wild animals may seem harmless to us, eventually it may cause problems to the Eco-system; may cause disease; may bring unwanted species into the neighborhood.  The Department of Wild Life strongly suggests that the birds – and other animals – not be fed.

Looking at the situation rationally – I have 14 fruit trees and a large grape vine.  I am not bothered by the birds eating the fruit – until the figs ripen and then the crows and I have a battle on who gets them first.

Feeding the birds is not attracting the mice and rats that Pt. Loma/ Ocean Beach seems to have at this time; it is the fruit on the trees.

I certainly am not going to stop growing my fruit; and, quite honestly, I do not think I am going to stop feeding the birds. My feeders are high up on limbs that will not support a mouse or rat, and certainly not a squirrel or opossum.

The joy of seeing the variety of birds coming to the feeders never ends.  The hummingbirds flitting around as they go from feeder to feeder is a nature lovers dream.  I see them also taking nectar from the flowers and other plants I have on the premises; I still see the birds eating a tomato leaf or two.  They do not rely on only the feeders for nourishment.  I watch them drink from the bird bath; I delight in watching them bathe in the daily changed water.

With the conflict of the Department of Wildlife saying one thing and the Humane Society saying something else, I will pretend that one hand is in hot water and one hand is in cold water, and the brain just doesn’t know how to register the results.  After all, I have a lot of bird food that I have to use up.



{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie August 4, 2020 at 12:29 pm

Please tell your readers that your photo is a rare sight – a hummingbird nest. Thanks for sharing – and BTW don’t stop feeding them! If you get hauled away, we’ll put together a fundraising page for your legal defense.


butch August 5, 2020 at 11:06 am

It’s a great photo!

I was at a nursery looking at trees once and a hummingbird was dive bombing my head. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I pulled a tree out to look at it and noticed a hummingbird nest (with two eggs!) in the tree.


Peter from South O July 20, 2021 at 10:15 pm

I am fortunate to live close to the Buena Vista Lagoon, which is a great environment for hummers, and they come by my well-planted property to feed and bathe. That being said, I am against the casual hummingbird sugar-water feeders; unless you are dedicated to cleaning it every three days (fungus is deadly), mix your sugar and water like a chemist, and have enough spacing between feeders to prevent putting undue stress on the birds, which are VERY territorial when it comes to artificial sources of food, better to plant food species. Better for the birds and for the environment in general.
I was brought up with birds, as my Mom was secretary of the local Audubon Society. She was very judicious, and would only feed the wild birds in Winter, when natural food was scarce.
Why plants and not feeders? It makes them into junkies, and they diminish the amount of time that they forage for insects, which are an important source of nourishment and absolutely vital for reproduction. Read on:


Judi Curry August 4, 2020 at 12:40 pm

I will definitely keep your comments in my “law” file, but….I had great news today from Tim that might make me think I won’t need your fundraising monies. Here is what he said:

“This info came from a Capt. in our law enforcement division. Hope this can make it into your piece, and lessen any fears or concerns…

‘The law doesn’t really apply to backyard birdfeeders. The law has to do with intent to bait for the purpose of poaching. It’s not illegal to own or operate a standard backyard birdfeeder.”

And he was right – I am greatly relieved.
Re: the hummer on her nest – Took the picture on my neighbor’s tree! Exciting.


Leonard Armstrong August 4, 2020 at 1:07 pm

Here is an example where wildlife law conflicts with everything growing in our yards. From cacti to tomatoes, we plant a myriad of garden species that feed birds, skunks, squirrels and raccoons. Even the city is guilty of planting date palms that feed protected parrots. Nearly every plant that blooms feeds hummingbirds. Maybe the law addresses food stations only and not the plants that produce it? My head hurts now.


Judi Curry August 4, 2020 at 2:17 pm

I feel your pain, Leonard. That’s why I did research in so many different areas. I was so thankful when Tim sent me the update this morning – but the way things are in today’s world it wouldn’t surprise me if the “bird-seed” patrol came knocking on my garden gate! And as ironic as things are – when I went to Google today the first item on the page was how to make a bird feeder!!!!!


retired botanist August 4, 2020 at 2:51 pm

So, just to back up CDFW a bit. It is always preferable for a wildlife species to get its nourishment from natural sources- butterfly weeds for the butterflies, nectar plants for the hummers, sunflowers, thistle and other seed plants for the seed eaters, fish rodents and other small birds for the raptors, good pollen plants for the bees, etc.
Another unintentional consequence of commercial birdseed is the inadvertent introduction of exotic plant species that germinate where they shouldn’t. Sugar water for hummers is debatable. So are peanuts for crows… didn’t you write an article last month about the voraciousness of crows?
Fruit trees, nectar plants and whatever else GROWS in your garden is great and a good contribution to the local fauna (even though fighting crows over the figs or rodents over the tomatoes might not be desired).
With bigger fish to fry, CDFW is not going to come along and cite you for having a backyard bird feeder.
Petsmart, Petco or whomever does not have a clue where their birdseed is being used. Its a legal product. But do the various species in their mix actually occur naturally in the eventual landscape? Chances are, the answer is no. I mean, peanuts grow underground so is that an indigenous source of food for crows in SD?
Rather than drilling down on the laws, why not focus on creating a cool melange of plants that all these local fauna thrive on? Sounds like your garden is perfect for just such a project!


Judi Curry August 4, 2020 at 4:28 pm

I do both; feed the birds from the feeders; they frequently use my garden as an “appetizer” or as a dessert. Everyone – birds included – like to have a menu to choose from.
Seriously, I was just surprised when a woman on next door received a note, supposedly from Fish and Game, (which, by the way turned out to be a fake and probably sent by a neighbor that objected to her feeding the crows) telling her about feeding birds and the illegality of doing so. When I began asking around and found that it was illegal, I decided to delve deeper into the situation. I was glad to receive Tim’s answer this morning and saw the law didn’t apply to back-yard feeders. But I did learn something about feeding birds. Interestingly enough I am bothered with rats not around the bird feeders, but eating my tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumbers. Really a case of “dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t”.


sealintheSelkirks August 5, 2020 at 2:45 pm

Doesn’t anybody else see the absolute cognitive dissonance of this? I started chuckling, then I freaking laughed as I read the list of why not to feed the birds. That list was…oh my I can just hear comedians George Carlin, or maybe Sam Kinnison (much louder of course!) just taking this and running with it. But since they are both dead and we miss them I’m gonna say my piece.

That list…from a freaking species that has polluted or poisoned or used up all the fresh water on the damn continent? Just the cow poop alone…I can’t think of any river or creek or lake that I would want my kids to drink out of.

A species that has covered how many sq millions of miles with concrete, asphalt, and buildings and industrial sites and just flat destroyed the ability of the land trapped beneath the industrialized world’s layer of death-to-anything-living to FEED the other animals that live on this planet with us (but not, as it’s looking, for a whole lot longer) after we’ve destroyed their natural habitats?

A species that, even in the face of incontrovertible proof that our actions are destroying life on the planet at the rate of a 6th extinction continue to do exactly nothing worth mentioning in the long run…or maybe the short if…you know.

Microplastics in the rain AND snow? Are you kidding me? How do we fix THAT????

But one has to see the irony in that kind of thinking that created that list, yes?
Hey retired bot! I’ve got the first copy of my book in my hand! Publisher printed one for me and sent it for me to go over one last time while we wait for the ISBN to show up.
And Judi, I’ve got two double suet feeders in the apple tree out front, and four hummingbird feeders across the front porch roofline. The babies are showing up now, both Calliope and Rufous, but they aren’t used to me like the parents who tend to fly around the house and stare in the windows (including the upstairs office on the opposite side of the house) until I go downstairs and refill the ones that are empty. They zip around to meet me to make sure I’m doing my job. I think they have their favorites since a 4-seater 2-cup always goes first!

Same behavior they do when they first get here in the Spring, look for me in all the windows and STARE REALLY HARD until I notice. Who said they have bird brains? And my 8 acres in the mountains are covered with flowers from all the rain this Spring. Bees everywhere, birds everywhere, and unfortunately too many yellow jackets. But I use an old vacuum on the porch to suck them off the feeders. The hummingbirds greatly appreciate it. I think they can hear the bugs screaming as they suck down the hose!

Best to you and your garden!



Naturelover July 20, 2021 at 8:36 pm

Hi Judy,
Oh this is so timely. A few days ago a Fish and Wildlife officer came to our door to tell us our neighbors had complained and we had to stop feeding the birds. This same neighbor has been using a slingshot to scare off the fledgling hawks that are flying by. The officer told us he had taken pictures of our feeders – a seed tube, a finch seed tube, suet block, and a dish feeder. We have always been careful only to feed enough that it is all eaten by the afternoon so as not to attract rodents. We did tell the officer about the slingshot happy neighbor but he said that hazing wildlife to scare them off your property is ok. So bird feeding is illegal but scaring them with risk of injuring them is acceptable?
Cornell University ebird app for recording bird numbers, they even have a backyard feeder count (! I emailed them and they did not know that feeding birds is illegal in California.


Frank Gormlie July 21, 2021 at 10:35 am

Ignore the order and make an issue out of it. Do you live in an urban area or somewhat rural?


Nina Paul January 10, 2022 at 4:50 am

Thanks for sharing this. It sure will help me feed the birds in my area better.


sealintheSelkirks January 10, 2022 at 10:49 am

After last summer blast-furnace heat that baked the ground rock hard and the was so hot the flying insects completely disappeared at the end of June, there was nothing for either type of bird to eat. Robins abandoned nests full of blue eggs that I still haven’t taken down. It was so hot the woodpeckers couldn’t find food and were eating off the suet feeders. What does one do when human-caused heat waves destroy the birds abilities to find food?

My retired biologist neighbor counted 72 species of birds over a year for their Forest Stewardship Program application a few years ago. I really wonder what will be coming back this coming Spring.

This below is pretty much saying the North American bird population is obviously not doing well:

North America Has Lost 3 Billion Birds in 50 Years

A sweeping study says a steep decline in bird abundance, including among common species, amounts to “an overlooked biodiversity crisis.”



Dennis Price July 29, 2022 at 7:24 am

Although a fun to read article we all know there are dumb laws and certainly not feeding back yard birds is one of them.
Best practice is to just continue feeding birds and don’t worry about the law.


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