DawnWatch: "Pigeon Wars" — sensitive NY Times Magazine article — 10/15/06

October 16th, 2006 2:35 pm by Kelly Garbato

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From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: Oct 15, 2006 7:02 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: “Pigeon Wars” — sensitive NY Times Magazine article — 10/15/06

The Sunday, October 15, New York Times Magazine has a story, by Jon Mooallem, headed “Pigeon Wars” and subheaded, “That the latest technology and ecological thinking can, and can’t, do about controlling our fine-feathered pests.” (P54)

The article looks at efforts to control pigeon populations in big cities. It is notable that only humane methods of control are being considered.

Mooallem focuses on a group of activists campaigning for pigeon control in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles. He writes of activist Laura Dodson who leads a volunteer campaign against the birds:

“Dodson has lived in Hollywood for 29 years. She likes pigeons and does not want them killed or made to suffer. She said this repeatedly in the clipped, mildly truculent way she says a lot of things.”

He covers some of the problems stemming from rampant pigeon populations in our cities:

“A pigeon dispenses about 25 pounds of excrement a year. Often this gunk must be blasted off hard-to-reach places using boom lifts and steam hoses. Pigeon-related damage in America has been estimated to cost $1.1 billion a year.”

Mooallem explains, however, that while the United States Department of Agriculture kills 60,000 pigeons a year in response to complaints, killing the birds is no longer the preferred method of dealing with complaints.

He writes:

“Even the trade journal Pest Control now warns that with ‘millions of bird lovers out there,’ you must consider ‘the publicity you would receive if your local paper runs photos of hundreds of poisoned pigeons flopping around on Main Street.’ As we have become less tolerant of the birds, we have also, somehow, grown more concerned about their well-being.”

A welcome development.

The article explains efforts “to implement a novel strategy pioneered by the Pigeon Control Advisory Service, or PiCAS, in Britain.”

We read:

“Essentially, the PiCAS model complements the widespread pigeon-proofing of buildings — this aimless shifting of pigeons from facade to facade — by situating large birdhouses, called dovecotes, in places like city parks. Displaced pigeons relocate inside. As the pigeons breed, volunteers and workers reach into the dovecotes and remove their eggs, replacing them with dummy eggs to stave off rebreeding. It’s a mechanical form of birth control that, PiCAS claims, can reduce total pigeon populations by half over four years.

“As all kinds of wildlife rebound and infiltrate the cities from which we exiled them, PiCAS’s approach is among a number of humane and ecologically savvy efforts on the forefront of urban animal control. Elsewhere, the U.S.D.A. is working to orally vaccinate skunks and raccoons against rabies and to use chemical contraceptives to treat nuisance animals like deer, prairie dogs and Canada geese. As we learn to recognize each city as an ecosystem, we may be more willing to sustainably control these problematic populations as a wildlife manager might, rather than eradicating them or shooing them around as exterminators do.”

Mooallem also discusses, “a pigeon contraceptive-feed called OvoControl working its way through the E.P.A.’s approval process.”

He notes “the futility of killing pigeons” since “an emptied niche in any ecosystem will rapidly be filled, either by immigrants or newborns.”

People who feed pigeons, thereby contributing the their overpopulation, are discussed with a tone that includes both exasperation and compassion — much as the birds themselves seem to be viewed. That tone of compassion, and the focus on finding humane solutions to our issue with another species, makes the article well worth reading and commending. You’ll find it on line here.

The Magazine section takes letters at magazine [at] nytimes.com.

Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Shorter letters are more likely to be published.

Yours and the animals’,
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. To unsubscribe, go to http://www.dawnwatch.com/cgi-bin/dada/dawnwatch_unsubscribe.cgi
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