Los Angeles Times

Dozens of ducks: nature or nuisance?

It was dusk when the two ducks started circling the quiet residential street of Cheryl Drive in Huntington Beach.

They eyed Maria Cuellar's seed-strewn driveway before touching down for dinner.

Soon, five more swooped down.

Then 10.



After a few minutes, nearly 50 ducks packed the driveway, pecking, waddling and scrambling for seed.

With the driveway crowded with dining ducks, late-comers used the street as a runway and taxied in for their share of the nightly meal.

"Come on you guys, come on babies," Cuellar said, scurrying them out of the street.

Cuellar has been feeding the ducks in her driveway every day for nearly 10 years. She diligently goes out each day at dusk to lay a swath of scratch and bowls of water.

But on Jan. 8, she was visited by code enforcement and told to stop.

"I'm not doing anything bad though," she said. "I'm trying to help and feed those birds like Mother Nature.They're my babies, I want those animals to eat because I know they're hungry."

After she was told to stop the nightly feeding, Cuellar said she was beyond distraught.

Through tears she talked of one duck that was "crying" and came to her shoes, asking for food. The other ducks quacked and circled the driveway, wondering when dinner would be served.

"They know me, they trust me, they know I'm there to feed (them), they know I'm there to protect (them)," Cuellar said. "They know I'll always be here, if it's possible, and they give me the chance, until the day I die."

But her ritual was declared a nuisance.

Senior code enforcement officer Rich Massi said his division was told by police that they received a complaint about the number of ducks that gather.

The reporting code enforcement officer watched Cuellar cover her driveway in seed and determined that the food on the sidewalk and the number of ducks were creating a problem.

The issued warning read, "You must stop feeding birds in your driveway. You must not spread any bird seed on your driveway as this creates nuisance conditions for your house and your neighbors."

Massi said the seed spills onto the sidewalk and makes the walkway slippery and therefore is a safety hazard. Also, the excessive number of ducks was "inhibiting the enjoyment" of other properties.

"If she kept it to a minimum spot on the driveway, that would not be a problem," Massi said. He also recommended that Cuellar use her backyard and less seed.

"I think it's lame only because we're not bothering anybody. We're not hurting anybody, and (the ducks) are not taking anything from anybody," said her daughter, Isabel Cuellar.

Her next-door neighbor, former City Council candidate Heather Grow, who has lived on the street for more than 20 years, said the ducks are around for only about an hour.

"I think it's fun to watch," she added.

Another neighbor, Bill, who would not give is last name, said the daily visits don't bother him.

"The only negative would be the droppings," he said, explaining that the ducks sometimes dirty his truck.

Marlene Flaherty, who does not live on the street but visits one of Cuellar's neighbors daily, said when the ducks swoop in "it's incredible."

"It brings her such joy," she added. But Flaherty said she can see both sides. She understands some neighbors' concerns and knows traffic on the street slows when the ducks are feeding.

Cuellar said many of her neighbors do not mind and some will bring their kids to watch the ducks. Grow added that she had not heard complaints.

Molly Whipp, a program supervisor and biologist at the nearby Bolsa Chica Wetlands, said feeding wildlife is not recommended.

"It's not a good habit to teach them to get food from humans, because it teaches them to go up to people and get their [food] rather than teaching them to forage for their own food," she said.

Whipp said it was unusual for the ducks to be in a residential area around people and cars since they prefer vegetation and water.

Cuellar said the ducks do not nest in the neighborhood and feed for only a short time before leaving.

She said she has not had any ducks nest in the 10 years she has been carrying on this relationship — one that started with just two ducks, Sammy and Tony.

After she befriended and fed the couple, they started bringing their 13 babies. From there, the number just kept growing.

Cuellar's neighbors said the number has increased significantly in the past year or so.

These days, Cuellar said she will get between 40 and 50 ducks a night for dinner and goes through nearly 50 pounds of seed a week.

She shoos cats from her yard and over the years has battled a hawk that would try to hunt the ducks.

"You're not getting your dinner here," she would tell it.

Though Cuellar has been told that if she stops feeding them, the ducks will stop coming, she disagrees.

After 10 years, she knows Sammy and Tony will keep stopping in. They are family.

"I want to still feed them," Cuellar said.

But despite her heartbreak, she said she will follow the code.

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