Get ready the county is getting set to talk about pigeons again
By Linda Valdez
Her name was Tootsie and her job was to dazzle me with the worthiness of pigeons. The first thing she did was drop a dab of pigeon doo on my skirt. It was a dry-clean-only skirt. I tried to be gracious. "It'll probably come out," I told the man who ran for a wet paper towel.
His name was Dave Roth and his mission is convincing people that pigeons are more than just [so called] "dirty, disease carrying pooping machines." Tootsie works for him. In fact, she's been living with him since her feet were so damaged that she cannot perch well enough to live on the outside.
Roth's house is home to a number of pigeons who've been so severely injured that they could never make it on the streets. He understands -- but does not condone -- the mentality of those who shoot, mutilate and poison pigeons. He used to take potshots at them himself.
Then he got religeon pigeon-style. "As I've become more accepting of these animals and their faults, I've become more accepting of life and all of its faults."
Roth is founder and operator of The Urban Wildlife Society. He's fast on the Fax machine and zealous in his efforts to protect pigeons from the slings and arrows of the pooped upon.
He's one of a group of pro-pigeon people who've been hard at work ever since the county announced plans late last year to poison the pigeons at the Madison Street Jail.
The birds are an expensive problem at the jail. The county says it costs about $17,000 a year to clean up the mess the birds make.
Not all downtown buildings have such a problem, which is the key to the solution. Pigeons roost and multiply at the jail because the building is loaded with hospitable places for them to build nests. It doesn't hurt that a hot dog vendor sells his wares and spills his crubs nearby.
The county thought poisoning was an answer. And it is an answer. It's just not a good answer.
It is indiscriminate. Other birds, possibly even some of th endangered peregrine falcons who prey on pigeons downtown, would also die.
It is aesthetically unpleasant. How would you like to: 1) witness a poisoned bird flopping around in its death throes or 2) try to explain the distressed bird's behavior to a wide-eyed, animal-loving 3-year-old?
It is also ineffective. Wildlife biologists say pigeons will thrive in the city as long as they have a place to roost and food to eat. The only way to permanently limit pigeons is to limit their nesting sites. When they run out of places to live, their populations become self-regulating.
Poisoning is a temporary solution. Pigoen populations will rebound as new birds move into the nests. It won't be long until you have to poison them again. And again.
Which brings us to Roth's major objection: Poisoning is inhumane. And his secondary objection: It's a wasteful, self-perpetuating expenditure of public dollars.
That should interest the county, which has nearly as many money woes as it has pigeons at the Madison Street Jail. Maybe more.
Roth has been badgering the county for months on behalf of pigeons. He's compiled information on how to screen out pigeon nesting sites so the birds go elsewhere. He says that's the cheapest, surest method. And the kindest.
Roth isn't the only person who wants a say in the fate of Phoenix's pigeons. The county got more than 2,000 calls to its Pigeon Hotline. About half the people said kill the birds. The other half said spare them, says Jack Shomenta, assistant county manager.
The county backed away from poisoning. Next week it will begin reviewing proposals for other means of pigeon control. One involves trapping the birds and relocating or killing them. One involves Roth's plan to block the entrances to their nests with netting. One involves mild electric shocks designed to make home inhospitable.
Netting is the best solution. One look into Tootsie's copper-colored eyes can tell you that. When you've got a pigeon close enough to see her blink, she doesn't look like a worthy enemy. They are gentle creatures and no more or less messy than any other bird, my skirt notwithstanding.
I can't say what looks worse on a black skirt, pigeon doo or the accumulation of white fuzz a wet paper towel leaves behind. But both came out at the cleaners. And pigeons are a part of the city. They may be messy. But then so are we.
Don't kill 'em.
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