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Neighbors feud over bird feeding

The seeds intended for the birds are attracting rats, a Safety Harbor man says. His neighbor says he's exaggerating.

By DEBORAH O'NEIL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


SAFETY HARBOR -- In the corner where Pierre DuBois' hedges meet Angelo Zaccari's fence, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi battles a scarecrow named Fred.

The patron saint welcomes all hungry winged creatures, presiding over a pink feeding platform where Zaccari spreads seeds and nuts to attract birds to his yard.

Just a few feet away, Fred swings in the breeze, warning them away. A menagerie of black metal cats and owls, black trash bags and big yellow eyeballs all mounted on PVC pipes makes DuBois' back yard look like a Halloween display.

St. Francis and Fred embody a feud that has brewed for years in this quiet North Bay Hills subdivision between Zaccari, a self-proclaimed animal lover, and DuBois, who says his neighbor's ways are luring vermin to his yard. The animals have left droppings in his pool, ripped holes in his screen and burrowed under his deck enclosure to get inside, he said.

"It's like a jungle out there," said DuBois, 60, a reservation agent for Air Canada. "I'm fed up with living with these things."

Zaccari, 67, a construction supervisor, says he was feeding the birds without any complaints long before DuBois moved to the neighborhood.

"My wife is an animal lover, same with me," Zaccari said. "What am I doing? I'm feeding birds."

Each man accuses the other of being unreasonable, and each has called the authorities on the other. Since they are no longer on speaking terms, Zaccari continues to feed the birds and DuBois refuses to remove the bizarre yard objects his neighbor resents having to look at.

DuBois says it is the rats that are most upsetting. They aren't scared off by Fred, the name Dubois gave to the wire frame scarecrow he ordered out of a catalog and dressed in old clothes and a Laurentide beer baseball cap.

Zaccari, who often wears a baseball cap, believes DuBois tried to make the scarecrow look like him.

"He did it to duplicate me," Zaccari said. "He's trying to intimidate me."

DuBois said the idea never occurred to him: "He doesn't have those clothes. They're mine."

The scarecrow -- along with the cats, owls, garbage bags and eyeballs -- have driven away the pigeons, DuBois said. But the rat problem persists, he said.

They hide out in the hedges, DuBois said, and scamper along the fence between their yards at night and early in the morning. He once found a dead rat in his screened pool room.

"It's a health concern," DuBois said. "They should move to the country if they want to feed the wildlife. We're in the city. The houses are so close to each other."

Zaccari, a deacon at Northwood Presbyterian Church, built a triangular wooden platform in his back yard 14 years ago as a haven for birds. He and his wife spread bird feed, peanuts and sunflower seeds on the platform once in the morning and again around 4 p.m., going through a 40 pound bag of bird feed in about a week and a half. Zaccari said he has seen up to 35 birds eating there at once.

"I'm not going to stop feeding the birds," Zaccari said. "They sit on the fence and wait for me. . . . The birds are so beautiful."

Zaccari and his wife say DuBois simply doesn't like animals and is exaggerating the rat problem. They said they noticed a rat two weeks ago and took care of the problem with poison.

"I don't see any rats running around here at night," Zaccari said.

But Tuesday, a dead rat lay in Zaccari's yard as he talked to a reporter. Later, Zaccari's wife, Connie, said DuBois probably put the dead rat there.

"I wouldn't put anything past him," Mrs. Zaccari said. "He's full of vile."

DuBois called the charge ridiculous.

Wildlife biologist Bill Kern of the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension said it's possible citrus rats are being drawn to the bird seed if any is left out overnight. The rodents will eat anything from bird food to fruit and flowers. He has even heard of citrus rats eating soap. Raccoons and squirrels will also eat the bird seed, he said.

"Normally my recommendation is if people are feeding birds you only put out enough seed that they will eat in one day," Kern said. "Leaving bird seed in the feeder overnight is a good way to get rats."

Two years ago, DuBois called Safety Harbor City Hall to complain about Zaccari. But Code Enforcement Officer Jim O'Neill said Zaccari isn't violating any rules by feeding birds, and he didn't see any evidence of a nuisance problem. The neighborhood, O'Neill noted, was once a citrus grove, so there probably are citrus rats around.

Another neighbor, Frank Stritar, whose yard borders the Zaccaris' back yard, said he never realized his neighbor was feeding birds. Stritar said he has never noticed rats, but did find one dead in his yard two weeks ago for the first time. He described Zaccari as a nice neighbor who takes good care of his property.

"To me, it's not a problem," Stritar said. "We notice the chirping a lot. It's kind of nice to hear birds."

As for his neighbor's dispute, Stritar said: "It's silly."

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