With the help of Public Services employees, Leah Cromarty installs the signs at Riverbank Park, asking visitors to avoid feeding ducks. Chance Viles/American Journal

WESTBROOK— Girl Scout Leah Cromarty wants residents to know that feeding the ducks is harmful, and that learning why is an important step towards healthier birds and rivers alike.

When Cromarty was younger, she loved feeding the ducks at Riverbank Park. It shocked her to later learn that she was actually harming them, she said, and now she hopes to spread that knowledge to the residents of Westbrook.

Three of these signs were installed along the Presumpscot River at popular spots for duck feeding. Chance Viles/American Journal

“I saw signs about it in South Portland and I was astonished,” the Westbrook High School freshman said. “Then, in trying to figure out what my Silver Award project for Girl Scouts would be, I thought about making the signs.”

Eating bread can cause health complications for ducks, such as “angel wing,” a syndrome that particularly affects aquatic birds, according to Lynn Leavitt, sustainability coordinator for the city.  It twists a portion of the wing so that the bird cannot fly well or migrate.

Ducks being fed bread are also at a higher risk of metabolic bone disease, a degenerative disease that weakens animals over time to the point of excess bone breakage and fractures. Having ducks eat bread on the water in one place also means a lot more bird waste ends up in the river, which can cause excessive algae.

“We want to teach people about it,” Cromarty said.

Cromarty, along with Leavitt and Public Services, installed three signs along spots in Riverbank Park were people tend to feed the ducks and where Cromarty fed them years ago. While children take in the lesson easily, she noted that the hard part is educating the adults.

“The kids are OK with it. It is the adults who have been doing it their whole lives and are more surprised,” she said.

Leavitt is working on a proposed ordinance that would ban duck feeding in the city. Under the plan, repeat offenders could be fined.

“The ordinance would put a fine in, not that we would fine people, but it gives a backbone to the ban,” Leavitt said. “The idea is that me or the animal control officer or someone would patrol and educate people feeding the ducks, but that has to be ironed out. … The fine would be for people who repeatedly continued to feed the ducks.”

No one would be given a beat specifically focusing on the ducks. “We are not trying to be ogres about it,” Leavitt said.

The ordinance is being drafted and does not have a date where it will appear in front of the City Council yet.

Ducks rest at Riverbank Park while Cromarty and Public Services installs the signs. Chance Viles/American Journal

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