Skip to main content

City of St. John's charges 70-year-old woman for feeding pigeons in her backyard

A pigeon is seen in this file photo. ( A pigeon is seen in this file photo. (

A Newfoundland woman says her 70-year-old mother is facing a $5,000 fine for feeding pigeons in her backyard in downtown St. John's.

Jessica Rendell said the City of St. John's charged her mother, Susan Rendell, for violating a municipal bylaw forbidding people from feeding wildlife on residential property. She said her mother has been feeding the pigeons in her backyard for more than a decade, putting food out for them on her roof or letting them eat from her hands in her garden.

The City of St. John's wants her mother to stop feeding the birds, but her mother is not sure if she can, she said.

"My mother went through cancer treatments a couple years ago. She has an anxiety disorder, she's an elderly person, and they have been a great comfort for her," Jessica Rendell said in an interview Friday. "There's so much crime and so many other pressing things, what are we doing spending tax dollars prosecuting people feeding the pigeons?"

Court documents show Susan Rendell was charged April 13 for failing to "cease the feeding of wildlife" and "placing food or other attractants out of doors," contrary to a residential property bylaw which prohibits both activities. For the purposes of the bylaw, the City's definition of "wildlife" includes pigeons.

The bylaw also states residents can feed song birds, but only with bird feeders. Homes smaller than 465 square meters can have up to two bird feeders. Another feeder can be added for each additional 465 square meters.

"The feeding of songbirds on the residential property (cannot) attract insects, rodents, gulls, crows, birds of prey, or flocks of pigeons," the law states.

A spokesperson for the City of St. John's said the bylaw came into effect in June 2019. News reports show it was proposed as a way to curb the city's rat population.

Jessica Rendell said her mother lives in a row of connected houses in a densely populated area of the city. Her mother's second-floor study looks out over a low-lying roof which hangs over her yard. Her mother likes to throw out handfuls of birdseed onto the roof and watch the pigeons come to snack, Rendell said.

In the warmer months, she'll sit in her back garden and feed the birds from seed in her hands, she added.

She said she thinks a neighbour may have complained to City Hall. Susan Bonnell, a spokesperson for the municipality, said the City does not comment on the specifics of cases before the courts, "as it may be prejudicial to do so."

There is one other "ongoing prosecution" in relation to the bylaw, Bonnell said in an email.

Rendell said her mother got a letter from municipal officials a few months ago asking her to stop feeding the birds, and she "tried to cut back." But the pigeons have been fed at her mother's place for so long, they came looking for their food, she said.

If feeding the pigeons was making a mess, Rendell said she would understand the action taken against her mother. But there is no mess, nor are there rats, she said.

"I go and sit out in her garden in the summer, I've never seen a rat. She's been there for 30 years, and I think she's maybe seen two rats in 30 years," Rendell said. "If birds were spilling out into any of her neighbour's property, or if they were defecating everywhere ... I would be encouraging her to stop."

Susan Rendell appeared in provincial court on Thursday, according to court dockets. Jessica Rendell said the case was held over and her mother is due back in court on July 20.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2023. Top Stories

Stay Connected