Sunday, March 12, 1995
A couple of Phoenix pigeon fanciers wouldn't mind if bird exterminators became an endangered species.
"I don't have a life. I have a cause," said the burly, bearded man gently handling his favorite feathered friend, Tootsie, a pigeon whose silky plumage is the color of oil spilled on water and just as iridescent.
The bird accompanied Dave Roth, founder of the five year old Urban Wildlife Society in Phoenix, and Barbara Houston, who joined the group last year after reading what she considered a heartless editorial in the Phoenix daily newspaper, on their trip to Lake Havasu City.
The two person, one-bird organization was created to discourage wholesale slaughter of pigeons by business owners and government officials who want to eliminate the nuisance of bird droppings and other messy aspects of pigeon life by scaring them off, killing them or trapping and relocating the birds, Roth and Houston said.
They attended last Thursday's Lake Havasu City Tropical Bird Fanciers' club meeting that evening and stayed Friday to spread their word.
Their message is simple -- the cruelty of currently accepted pigeon eradication techniques is unnecessary, expensive and dangerous to the rest of the ecology.
The best method of evicting unwanted pigeon residents is to [use] the process that caused the extinction of so many species from the earth already -- habitat elimination.
Put a slinky along a ledge and the pigeons won't roost there. Cover inviting eaves, spaces and overhangs with wire or nylon netting to prevent the birds from getting a foothold on a solid wall, and the birds will go elsewhere to set up housekeeping, Roth and Houston promised.
"I got involved about a year ago. I was working at a downtown office in Phoenix, and I saw a pigeon out in the street and went out and picked it up, and about 15 other dying pigeons, and one of those died in my hands," said Houston.
She took the live, but suffering, pigeon to a friend who is a bird rehabilitator who told her about Roth. "And I got in touch with him," she said, while helping Roth sort through copies of newspaper and magazine stories about their fight against inhumane pigeon control.
"Pigeons have been in close proximity to man for more than 5,000 years," explained Roth, who has spent the past five years of his life studying the ordinary, but often misunderstood, bird.
He said the feathered creatures, that are as common as sparrows, originally came from the Mediterranean and that their name comes from the Middle English, Middle French, and Late Latin meaning "young, chirping dove."
Roth uses the terms rock dove and pigeon pretty interchangeably, because they are  the same species, and  all the pigeons and doves in the world are members of Order Columbiformes, Family Columbidae.
Urban Wildlife's founder said he created the organization in response to the grief he felt when he arrived home from work one evening and found 10 of the pigeons he had befriended and even named, convulsing and dying on his doorstep.
"I was crying, and I took the live ones to a rehabilitator, and she said this happens all the time," Roth said, reporting the exchange that started him on a new life path.
"I wondered what I could do to help, and the first thing I did was research the hell out of it. I've set out to find a better alternative" to pigeon slaughter by any means as a way of controlling their population or driving them away.
The methods Maricopa County decided to try when the pigeon droppings grew by about an inch deeper a month in the areas they occupied at the jail horrified Roth and Houston. The architecture of the detention facility could hardly have been better for pigeons, with its outcroppings and ledges of concrete as full of habitat possibilities as any rocky cliff.
Pigeon mess cost the jail budget $20,000 a year, detention administrators complained.
Roth read about the county's plans to drive away the pigeons using poison spread on perches [or by using] a poison that is billed as a confusion-causing agent that makes birds so uncomfortable they'll leave.
When the county supervisors explained the innovative method they also supported for pigeon eradication, they failed to mention that confusion is a less common reaction to the poison than convulsions, followed by death, if major veterinary intervention is not taken immediately.
What they're (jail and Maricopa County officials) doing here is not working. There are better ways to solve the problem and not harm the birds. There is no reason  economically, morally or for safety," he said.
He said, "The county spends hundreds of dollars to hire these guys who have a never-ending source of income."
Roth said that efforts to negotiate with Maricopa County Board of Supervisors were fruitless.
By the end of 1994, the supervisors were contemplating trapping pigeons and then either condemning them to the gas chamber or death by lethal injection, neither of which addresses the problem that concerned the professor and the pigeon's protector.
However, thanks to the staging of a demonstration by the several environmental agencies that have formed a coalition with Urban Wildlife, the county reconsidered Roth's recommendations and has decided to implement the alterations to the jail structure that will eliminate nesting sites.
With the blessing of numerous state and federal wildlife regulation and protection agencies, Roth plans to continue his battle for the pigeon population of Phoenix, he said.
"I've taken a vow of poverty. I do odd jobs,  and I don't ask anybody for anything. I just give people ideas how they can do things (to reduce pigeon nuisance) themselves, cheaply and easily," Roth said, explaining why he quit his "day job" several years ago.
"Actually, I'm being very selfish. When I think of the treatment of these birds, I get a knot in the pit of my stomach. I've got so hooked, I can't do much else," he said, almost sheepish about his intense commitment.
Houston said she gets by taking care of an elderly former neighbor, who was failing by himself at home, but did not want to go to a nursing home, so she moved in.
For so many years, I was so selfish about things that didn't matter and doing things that didn't really matter, but now, I think, I am [doing thing that really matter]," she said.
Mark Short, a Lake Havasu City resident who met the two-member club at a bird show in Phoenix recently, said he was very concerned when a local business poisoned some pigeons here nearly five years ago.
"So, when I saw what he (Roth) had to offer, I invited him here because my wife, Pam, is program chairman for the Tropical Bird Fanciers," Short Explained.
Further information abut the local tropical bird club is available by attending one of their meetings, which take place on the second Thursday of each month at Grace Episcopal Church at 7:30 p.m.
Persons interested in additional information from Roth or Houston, may contact the Urban Wildlife Society at 717 W. Cambridge Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85007.
A publication of Today's Daily News, Lake Havasu, Arizona.