An elderly Washington woman hasbeen sued by her next-door neighbors for $30,000 because she feeds the birds.
"I feed the birds. Is that a crime?" asked 79-year-old Emma Pedersen, who has lived in her two-story brick house at 4509 43rd Place NW for 30 years.
The battle of the birds in this otherwise quiet Northwest neighborhood has apparently festered for years. Pederson feeds dozens of birds -- mainly pigeons -- outside her house each day inhonor, she says, for the role carrier pigeons played in the defense of her native Belgium during the two World Wars.
She said she hardly expected that hernext-door neighbors. Nathan and Esther Finkelstein, would take the issue to court. "The pigeons are very courteous," Pedersen said in court papers, "which is more than I can say for Mr. and Mrs. Finkelstein."
Every morning at 7:30, a few pigeons arrive to eat seed and bread crumbs that Pedersen leaves in her backyard. They return at lunch time, and at 6 p.m., 20 to 30 pigeons come to eat dinner and then leave. She also leaves a bowl of boiled rice in her front yard for sparrows.
The Finkelsteins, who have lived next to Pedersen for five years, call the birds "filthy" and complain the birds leave droppings in their back yard and roof. They built a fence between the properties in an attempt to keep the birds away.
"I'm not trying to aggravate 80-year-old people, but there are other places to feed birds," said Nathan Finkelstein, a lawyer who recently brought the suit in D.C. Superior Court.
Pedersen said she hangs her white sheets out to dry several times a week and never finds them soiled.
Pedersen charges that the Finkelsteins have escalated the bird fight into full-scale war. She claims that Finkelstein throws at the birds and shoots at them with a pistol. Finkelstein says he has never even held a pistol in his life.
But Finkelstein, in words reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, alleges in his lawsuit that Pedersen's yard has "flocks of birds . . . constantly increasing in size so that currently there are as many as 100 birds congregating at any given time."
The Finkelsteins' suit calls the pigeons "filthy birds which carry . . . a deadly blood disease," that could affect them or their infant daughter. But Pedersen says that as a child her mother used to keep pigeons, that they would eat out of her hand, "and never did I get sick or die of a blood disease.
"This talk about pigeons carrying such disease is nonsense. Belgium, my homeland, has about 10 million people and 6 to 8 million pigeions, but you have never heard of Belgians dropping dead of such diseases," Pedersen said.
In Brussels, she said in court papers, there is even a statue of a woman holding a pigeon on her out-stretched hand -- the "monument to the unknown pigeon." And, she says, Americans should likewise respect the birds because a pigeon was decorated forsaving lives in World War I by flying messages between the Allies.
Pedersen says the District's sanitary department visited her house once and suggested she feed the pigeons in the street. But Pedersen refused, saying she did not want the pigeons to be run over by cars.
Finkelstein said he had tried to settle the matter quietly, without a court suit, but to no avail. So the Finkelsteins are asking the court to force Pederson to stop feeding the birds and to pay them damages they say have been caused to their home, yard andcars from droppings.
Pedersen says the Findelsteins have a vendetta against pigeons. They have "made up their minds thay they don't like pigeions and they have sued me to get at the pigeons and the other birds,"she said in court papers.
"I'm speaking for myself," Pedersen concludes in court papers, "I also speak for all the pigeons, and the bluejays and the cardinals and the sparrows, for they cannot speak for themselves."
Pedersen says she will fight to the end on behalf of her birds. Her attorney, Arthur Kahn, has argued thatthe court should ask the Finkelsteins to "live and let live."