Today, a rather unfortunate dispatch from the neighborly spat file:

Alfred Rockefeller, 77, began supplying the local avian lunch crowd — a total of five different species of birds, apparently — with snacks in his suburban Ramsey, N.J., backyard after a series of health issues left him housebound and mostly immobile. The simple act of feeding neighborhood birds served as one of Rockefeller’s “few joys” after becoming confined to his home on Cobblestone Lane two years ago, according to The Record.

"It's one of few things I get pleasure out of. I can also watch TV. But I prefer to watch the birds,” explained Rockefeller. (And, yes, he claims to be a distant relation to you-know-who.)

Borough authorities have taken a different stance, however, when it comes to Rockefeller’s backyard bird feeding activities. After being directed by the Bergen County Bird Feeder Police local officials to not spread loose bird food on the ground, Rockefeller and his wife Annette, 66, invested in a few decidedly more tidy — and ordinance-compliant — hanging wreath-style feeders and filled them with peanuts (as you can see in the below video, they also have a handful of traditional seed-dispensing birdhouses as well).

This is when the real problems — a series of verbal and written warnings resulting from numerous neighbor-lodged complaints about the Rockefeller’s store-bought enclosed bird feeders acting as a magnet for a menagerie of undesirable critters such as deer, chipmunks, groundhogs squirrels and geese — began. Yesterday, the allegedly ordinance-defying couple was ordered to appear in court to answer a police-issued summons that carries a $250 to $500 fine.

The offense? Illegally feeding wildlife.

At the center of the brouhaha is the borough’s environmental health specialist, Leo Egan, who is convinced that the peanut-filled apparati installed in the Rockefeller’s backyard is not appropriate for feeding birds — even though they are elevated and enclosed, which renders them completely legit under borough guidelines — and that birds themselves don’t even snack on peanuts.

Don Torino, president of the Bergen County Audubon Society and a naturalist with retailer Wild Birds Unlimited, begs to differ: "They simulate what the birds find in the wild — acorns or other tree nuts. Can a squirrel get at the peanuts? Sure. But these are elevated feeders specifically put up for birds." He adds: "It always seems to come down to one neighbor not liking another. It's possible the inspector is just not familiar with the bird feeders that are out there."

The offending model of wire wreath feeder is sold at a variety of retailers including Wild Birds Unlimited and (currently on sale!), which describes it as a “clever way to dispense peanuts:"

Nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, titmice, blue jays and many other birds love nutritious, protein-rich peanuts, and this ingenious wire spiral wreath is a simple and effective way to offer them. Birds perch on the spiral loops and pull out individual peanuts to feed. Peanuts are a high-calorie, high-energy that food helps birds survive cold winter temperatures.

Nuthatches and titmice aside, Egan is firm in the belief that while the bird feeders may be providing Rockefeller with a distraction during his health-related confinement, they're also doing a bang-up job at irking the neighbors: “There were a lot of animals … being attracted. The animals don't recognize the yard line between one house and another. There was spillover, and other neighbors had damage to their gardens from the animals. They were putting in expensive plantings and getting them decimated," Egan explains to The Record.

Annette Rockefeller thinks that she and her husband are simply being singled out by Egan: "I feel like we're getting picked on over here. To me it's like, what's going to be next? I'm going to be walking around my yard in shorts and be told I'm ugly and bringing down property values."

“I feel quite strongly about having to go to court about something that shouldn't be in court," adds Alfred Rockefeller, who normally only leaves his homes via wheelchair for medical appointments. He also argues to CBS 2 New York that his home's woodsy suburban locale, not the peanuts, is why the neighborhood is being overrun by animals: "There are more and more animals congregating there because everything else is being built up and they have no other place to go. My neighbors really don’t realize what the true situation is.”

Following yesterday’s summons appearance before Municipal Court Judge Joseph Rotol, it now appears that the Rockefellers are looking to resolve the matter out of court after the Rockefeller’s pro-bono attorney, Anthony N. Iannarelli Jr., and the municipal prosecutor agreed to discuss the matter with Egan, who did not appear in court (a willing-to-testify Torino, however, did appear in support of the Rockefellers). They will return to court on Sept. 10.

Said Iannarelli: "The ordinance prohibits feeding wildlife. But it allows bird feeders if they are elevated, which the Rockefellers’ bird feeder is. So this bird feeder is in compliance.” Iannarelli adds that one lingering question remains: Are peanuts, as Torino and hundreds of bird feeder retailers nationwide claim, appropriate food for birds?

With that I turn the question over to you: Do you use peanuts — or a wreath-like hanging feeder meant for peanuts — to feed birds?

Via [NorthJersey.Com], [CBS New York]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

New Jersey couple slapped with hefty fine for backyard bird smorgasbord
An elderly couple's peanut-filled hanging bird feeders are at the center of a neighborly dispute over the illegal feeding of wildlife.