Be nice to pigeons!

Pub date December 12, 2006
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION Until two years ago I didn’t give a rat’s ass about pigeons. But then I began researching my book, and I was stunned by what I didn’t know. I quickly grew to admire the birds — and this coming from a guy who still prefers playing fetch with a dog to running about with a pair of binoculars chasing pretty tail.
San Francisco, it seems, is of two minds about pigeons. The city was ahead of the curve (as usual) when it banned avicides, which are used to target pigeons but indiscriminately punish all birds. That’s a great thing. Not only are the avicides cruel and difficult to control — they don’t work. Sure, you’ll see a lot of dead pigeons around. You might even see them fall out of the sky and convulse on the ground. But as they say, nature abhors a vacuum, and even more pigeons will fill the void.
San Francisco has also banned the feeding of pigeons (although songbirds still get a free lunch). The ban feels a touch cruel, but the city is on to something: too much food leads to too much breeding, which leads to too many pigeons, which leads to collections of unsightly droppings. It’s not the pigeons that are the problem, it’s that there are simply too many of them, which is why their droppings appear to pile up. Overfeeding exacerbates the problem.
But rather than banning feeding altogether, the city should consider reguutf8g the feeding. People like feeding pigeons, and there’s no law short of capital punishment that will stop them from this enjoyable pastime.
Many European cities have had success with a humane pigeon control policy that drops a pigeon population by half in a handful of years. It works like this: the city places modern-day dovecotes around town and encourages citizens to feed the pigeons there and only there. Pigeons like dovecotes and choose to lay their eggs there. At the end of each week, a park’s employee can cull the eggs.
Wildlife can be inconvenient. But does that mean we need to brutalize it? The pigeon has athletic abilities and an unparalleled history nothing short of astounding. Pigeons are the world’s oldest domesticated bird — Noah’s dove was a pigeon. They have been utilized by every major historical superpower from ancient Egypt to the United States. It was a pigeon that delivered the results of the first Olympics in 776 BCE and a pigeon that first brought news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo some 2,500 years later. Nearly a million pigeons served in both world wars and are credited with saving thousands of soldiers’ lives. They have served us loyally for aeons — and look upon us as their guardians.
Pigeons don’t carry any more diseases than we do, and they are only as filthy as our own cities. The queen of England doesn’t consider the birds dirty. Rather, she owns racing pigeons. Many of us forget that pigeons are really just doves (rock doves), which we view as a sign of purity. Picasso’s doves? He was painting pigeons. In fact, he named his daughter Paloma, Spanish for pigeon.
It’d be great if America’s most progressive city were to develop a humane pigeon control program that the rest of the nation could then copy. Not only would it be great publicity for a great city, it’s the right thing to do. SFBG
Andrew D. Blechman
Andrew D. Blechman is the author of Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird (Grove Press).