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Defending Pigeons; the County

Decision humane, right

By Dave Roth
Wednesday, July 8, 1994

In his July 1 Body Politic essay criticizing the method chosen for eliminating pigeons at the county jail, Dan Columbus, who owns a Scottsdale exterminating company, presumes to represent the pest control industry and tries to pass off exaggeration as public information.

Pigeons, to their credit, have saved battalions of our soldiers by delivering vital wartime information. Pigeons have delivered life saving medications to remote areas, and still do to this day.  In fact, many people who are reading this right now might owe their very existence to a pigeon who was responsible for saving their ancestors.

Mr. Columbus claims that the rock doves we know as pigeons subsist on human-generated garbage. Some may. We humans can be quite messy. But, bear in mind that whatever pigeons eat, rats and mice can't. So, pigeons may actually help control rodent populations. 

Maricopa County's Pigeon Hotline statistically indicates that an enormous number of people care about these birds. Many people enjoy these fine feathered features of our urban wildlife.

A frantic mother called The Urban Wildlife Society recently. Her toddler was playing in the backyard and some pigeons landed nearby. She remembered something in the news about the county saying that people can die from pigeon diseases. I assured her that the animal disease experts at the Arizona Department of Health Services report that there has never been a case of any pigeon-related disease in the state. In fact, nationally, health officials find the risk of pigeon caused human disease nonexistent or so extremely rare they deem it insignificant. Misinformation and scare tactics used by unethical or ignorant sources, such as in this case, pest control companies or certain county officicals, is responsible for much unwarranted worry and anguish.

Mr. Columbus claims that he could have "humanely poisoned" the pigeons at the jail, including "cleanup," for about $3,000, instead of the $30,000 the county contracted to spend "to calm a lot of uninformed citizens who were swept up in a campaign against health and common sense."

First of all, in this context, "humane poisoning" is an oxymoron meaning, "have a nice, convulsing, one-to-48 hour long death." What he conveniently omitted was that, because not all of the birds would be killed and new birds would come in from surrounding areas to fill the vacancies he would create, he would have to savagely poison several times a year, year after year, forever.

In a query from me about bird control, Dr. Richard Kramer of the National Pest Control Association wrote: "While the strategy of bird removal (trapping and/or lethal baiting) reduces the population, it only offers a temporary solution to the problem. Birds will migrate back into the area and reinhabit previous roosting sites if they are not excluded from the site. So, in either case, for long-term bird management, exclusion is essential."

The county opted for building modification at the jail rather than pest-control because the $20,000 annual cost to clean up droppings from new and remaining birds plus the $9,000 to $12,000 ongoing expense of regular poisoning or removal made no sense fiscally, morally, or practically.

The $30,000 spent once now will save the county more than a million dollars over the projected life of the building.

I know because I was one of the members of Maricopa County's Bird Control Evaluation Committee who unanimously recommended the genuinely humane and most economical method of bird control which the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved.

An out-of-state firm was chosen because it is the only vendor providing the unique type of bird control system the county was seeking. Dave Roth is founder and chairman of the Urban Wildlife Society and the Pigeon Coalition. He served on a committee charged with resolving the pigeon problem.

File photo; Caption: Tiny electric fences on ledges will roust pigeons at the jail.