Pigeons Droppings

Pigeons navigate better than any pilot, they're more sociable than any debutante, they've adapted to the urban landscape better than any human. But they poop. So we're poisoning them.

Strand says Ecolab tried pigeon-proofing West Port Plaza. But, in effect, they did the basics (trash removal, polite signs, a little bit of mesh, two owls for a month). According to Art Slater, an environmental-health expert who runs the pest-management department for the University of California-Berkeley, that's nowhere near enough. He took over 20 years ago, reduced campus pesticide use by 90-99 percent and increased control. But it took patience, money and creativity.

"We've had success with 14-inch balloons that have big eyes and a tail and wobble in the breeze," he reports solemnly. "We've had success with owls that move, or hawk and falcon models that move, if the resident pigeons are gone and the new fly-by pigeons see them. As for owls that stay motionless, I've got pictures of pigeons landing on them."

Speaking of landing, surfaces are crucial -- the rougher the better. When Berkeley resurfaced one of its buildings with a smoother glaze, the pigeons stopped landing on it. "Someone should study the coefficient for the friction of the landing surfaces," suggests Slater. "There's untapped potential there."

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Other barriers include porcupine wire, Slinkys, fishnetting, dunce caps to prevent lighting fixtures from serving as a landing pad, concrete to turn ledges into slick ramps. Slater's not big on spikes, though. "They're ugly, and accumulate feathers and debris. I have a picture of a pigeon who filled the spikes with nesting material; she has the best-anchored nest in the world!"

As for the "sticky stuff" often used to keep birds off ledges, the Urban Wildlife Society says it's crueller than a sudden death. "They can get a big ball of the goo stuck in their throats," explains Roth, "or they can get it on their feathers, and it can prevent them from thermoregulating, so they freeze to death."

It's not clear whether that happened at West Port Plaza, but the corn Goodman saw on the ground shouldn't have been there, says Slater. "They might have overbaited. There shouldn't be any left." Strand says Ecolab used a 1-to-9 ratio and intended only to scare the birds off. But, according to Slater, "One grain to 10 is pretty much a lethal dose. Scaring doses are 1-to-26." Avitrol's own label suggests starting with 1-to-29 but allows a range all the way down to 1-to-9, noting that more concentrated doses bring quicker results -- and higher mortality.

Swindle recalls an aluminum mill besieged by pigeons whose droppings were literally gumming up the works. They used Avitrol at a ratio of 1-to-9 and baited twice, on Christmas morning and New Year's Day. By Jan. 2, only four of the 2,000 or so pigeons were living at that mill.

These "success stories" help Swindle defend Avitrol against more permanent solutions. "The beauty of it is, it's economical," he says, pointing out that if you de-pigeon an isolated area, replacements might never arrive.

He's right. Except, there are fewer and fewer isolated areas.
"As our human population expands," says Crawford, "we take up more and more of the natural space where these birds can live, and push them out." He pauses, just long enough for the anger to crest. "Are we going to kill off everything that gets in our way

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