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Big perch in the sky jail birds' next stop?

County weighs options; pigeon euthanasia likely

By Chris Fiscus
The Phoenix Gazette

An enraged public cried fowl when the county wanted to poison jail birds in downtown Phoenix.

So the county huddled for a month and embraced a new plan to rid the Madison Street Jail of an estimated 1,000 pigeons: euthanasia.

Sounds merciless. But it's conservative compared with some ideas they considered.

Consider these gems:

•Trap the birds and use them as a food source for the homeless or jail inmates.

•Feed the birds cracked corn soaked in alcohol. As the birds pass out, collect them, and remove all nests and eggs.

• Use electrical shock to destroy them.

•Establish a National Pigeon Hunting Day and "shoot them all."

All were suggested by the public or humane associations.

"We discussed them all," said Jack Shomenta, assistant county manager.

Including a plan to feed the birds food containing birth control products.

County officials said in mid-December that  they wanted to kill the birds by using "poison perches." The toxin would enter the birds' feet when they landed on the poison-soaked ledges. They would fly away and die.

The county received an estimated 2,000 calls offering other options.

They said one person suggested the county take "large balloons with eyes and proposed we'd hang a dozen or so around the jail."

What about stuffed owls with lights in their eyes and loud music?

Placing human hair in stockings and hanging them around the jail?

For the birds

A sample of suggestions considered by Maricopa County for dealing with pigeon problems at the Madison Street Jail:

   • Have the Sheriffs Office shoot them.

   • Start an adopt-a-pigeon program.

   • Purchase hawks or falcons for the downtown area.

   • Place plastic or rubber snakes on the jail.

   • Have Boy Scouts trap and remove the birds to earn a wildlife badge.

   • Use the birds as pet food at a dog pound.

   • Place brown garlic in tea bags on the jail.

   • Place nails on perches.

SOURCE: County Manager's Office

All were suggested.

Shomenta said Friday that he backs the plan to trap the birds, take them from the jail and have them euthanized.

But he acknowledged that could produce the same outcry as the poison perch plan.

The difference, he said, is that the poison perch plan would have taken a day to kill the birds.

The county says something has to be done.

It pays the equivalent of one full-time employee to do nothing but clean up after the birds, costing the county about $17,000 a year. 

Installing poison perches would have cost about $9,000.

Shomenta had no estimate of how much the new plan would cost, but said it would take about 30 to 60 days to complete.

Pigeon droppings actually do damage to property, including mortar, concrete and paint, he said.

And relocating the birds isn't the answer, county officials said, as the birds sometimes travel 500 miles to return to where they were born.

"These birds have incredible homing, especially if they have infested at the jail. They'd be back," Shomenta said.

The plan still has to be accepted by the county manager and the Board of Supervisors.

Pigeons also are a problem at a sheriffs facility at 35th Avenue and Durango Street, Shomenta said.

The county also wants Phoenix to relocate two hot dog carts parked near the jail. A vendor at the end of the day recently began tossing hot dog buns to the birds.

"We had a pigeon feeding frenzy right there," Shomenta said.

Despite the possible outcry, Shomenta, speaking as a county official, said the euthanasia plan is sound. Speaking as a person, he said the move is regrettable.

"I don't like to kill anything," he said. "But I eat chicken, fish and cattle.

"I wish there was another alternative."