Linda Valdez

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Take it from the birdmen: Pigeons aren't as bad as you think

By Linda Valdez
The Arizona Republic
Friday, January 21, 1994

Pity the poor pigeon.

First it was brought here against it's will by people with such bad taste in birds that they also brought the house sparrow and the starling.

Some escaped captivity and found the buildings we built more than suitable for nesting. So they stayed.

Then they found the food we eat more than acceptable. So they proliferated. They inhabit an ecological niche that includes little old men on park benches and kids trailing crumbs.

As domestic animals imported from Europe, pigeons did exactly  what domestic animals are supposed to do: They were fruitful and multiplied. And multiplied. And multiplied.

Now we call them flying cockroaches.

We make plans to poison them.

Is this fair?

Many people don't think so.

When news got out about a plan to set up poison  pigeon perches through which the birds' feet would absorb deadly doses, people were aghast. So many called the county to protest that the county set up a special Pigeon Hotline to take suggestions. And take suggestions. And take suggestions.

The county is learning that when it comes to pigeons, there can be resignation. There can never he victory.

"As long as we have tall buildings, says Peter Siminski of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, "we will have pigeons."

And as long as county officials go off half cocked in pursuit of simple answers that ignore biological verities, we'll have the kind of public outcry that leads to pigeon hotlines.

Both Siminski and Tom Hildebrandt, wildlife program manager at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, say nature offers the solution. Two things determine how many pigeons you are going to have to dodge. The availability of nesting sites and food. Because it's not practical to lock up all the old men bearing popcorn and crumby little kids, the way to limit pigeon populations is by sealing up the nooks and crannieson tall buildings.

The operative word here is "limit." Pigeons are as much a pan of the city as asphalt. They'll always find some place to roost. So you might as well get used to them. 

You might even try m appreciate them.

Pound for pound pigeons don't produce more waste than other birds. They just  seem dirty because they are big birds and they hang out in groups. Hildebrandt compares it to campers. One guy camping by the river doesn't make much of a mess. Hundreds of campers flocking together for a Fourth of July outing do.

Not only are they not dirty, but Siminski  rejects the notion that pigeons are aesthetically unpleasing. He says they have interesting combat and mating rituals that they will perform anywhere in front of anybody. This gives city folks a chance to observe nature during a lunch hour.

They do something interesting on the homefront too. Both male and female pigeons produce a kind of milk in their crops to feed their babies.

Still not impressed? OK. Try to think of them as a resource. The value of that resource -- which the county wanted to poison and render both useless and dangerous -- has not been lost on nature.

The proliferation of pigeons brought peregrine falcons to downtown Phoenix. A dozen or so of the endangered birds live here. These are birds with an image so imposing that a firm of personal injury attorneys is probably contemplating its use in an ad campaign.

Falcons are here thanks to pigeons. Without pigeons, downtown Phoenix would be without that special drama of interspecies prey and predator. Without peregrines and pigeons, we'd have only the standard "big dog eats little dog" rat - race stuff.

Hildebrandt and others have been studying the falcons as part of the Game and Fish Urban Peregrine Falcon Project for several years.

Peregrines winter here. Pairs apparently come back year after year. They don't nest during  their stay: eggs are laid and babies raised elsewhere. Hildebrandt speculates that it's too hot here in the summer for rearing chicks. Both the snowbirds who flee and the tough birds who stay the summer can identify with that.

Peregrines will never provide adequate pigeon control say the bird men. They only pick off an occasional pigeon here and there. But falcons could die from eating poisoned pigeons, which should preclude any more talk of such draconian population control.

And could be a bit of ironic luck for the pigeon.


Linda Valdez can be reached at or at 1-602-444-8474.