Niagara Gazette

Features

December 30, 2013

Birdman travels to falls to feed birds, squirrels

Niagara Gazette — John Hoffman is the kind of guy that children’s stories are made of.

Standing among the trees with his hands outstretched, he whistles a cheerful unnamed tune like a Disney character, and the animals come. The birds fly right into his hands and the squirrels run to him at top speed from all quarters, sitting up on their haunches, like sweet-faced storybook creatures.

He’s been coming up to Niagara Falls all the way from West Seneca a least a couple times a week for the past 15 years. Just to feed the wild animals. Why Niagara Falls? “Because it’s beautiful here,” he says, simply.

Tourists from all over the world stop to watch him, entranced. He shares seeds and nuts generously. During a park excursion at the end of the busy tourist season this autumn, he gave a handful of seeds to a young teenage boy from England and smiled in satisfaction when a little black-and-white chickadee came an sat upon the boy’s hand. Hoffman noted that some have told him that having a wild bird land in their palm is even better than seeing the mighty falls.   

He’s rather surprised anyone would be interested in his story. He’s just a retired Bethlehem Steel worker with a simple love for animals.   

But, his favorite activity is not always as simple as it sounds.

Two winters ago, he crashed his car on black ice coming home from the Falls, so he doesn’t get to visit as often as he likes. Whenever he can borrow his wife’s car, he makes the 30-mile trek out to Niagara Falls.

And, wildlife being wild, the creatures don’t always respond politely. Last winter, standing in the park parking lot, he watched as a tentative female cardinal made her way to partake of his offerings. While she was eating, a hawk swooped down and grabbed her. John swung his cap at the predator and the bird dropped his intended meal, but the cardinal could not be saved. 

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