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County's latest plan for rousting jail's pigeons truly jolting

Wires would give birds harmless but unpleasant zap

By Chris Fiscus
The Phoenix Gazette
TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 1994

The county has a shocking answer for a problem that's for the birds.

Trying to persuade an estimated 1,000 pigeons to find a new home, officials want to place thin wires on the ledges of the Madison Street Jail that will give a slight shock to the landing birds.

"It wouldn't kill 'em but they'd get the idea," Dave Roth, founder of the Urban Wildlife Society, said. "It's kind of like walking across a carpeted floor and touching a doorknob.

"And it's a lot better than killing them."

The county has considered the death penalty several times for the birds.

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

The birds also damage property and are a nuisance, officials say.

Roth said Neiman Marcus in Scottsdale uses the same "shocking" system to discourage the birds from making their mark at the posh store.

In the county's plan, screens also would be placed over doors and air intakes in other parts of the jail to prevent the birds from landing.

The two-part solution's price tag -- about $29,000.

County officials in mid-December said they might kill the birds by using "poison perches." Toxin would enter the birds' feet when they landed on the poison-soaked ledges and they would fly away and die.

The county received an estimated 2,000 calls, including some bizarre alternatives:

  • 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.
  • Feed the birds food containing birth control products.
  • Others suggested placing plastic or rubber snakes on the jail, or having Boy Scouts trap and remove the birds to earn a wildlife badge.

    In January, the county considered euthanasia. Finally, they requested bids from companies to come up with another answer.

    "We think this makes a lot more sense," Roth said. "The facts were impossible to ignore.

    "The only way to make a difference wasn't poisoning them and killing them. It was changing their habitat.

    Even Roth was surprised at the public outcry when the birds were to be killed.

    "A lot of people think these birds are pests, but there are a lot that think they're cute little creatures," he said. "But they usually are a little embarrassed to come forward.

    "Because they did, the birds will live."

    A committee representing the county and animal rights groups embrace the plan, calling it effective and humane.

    "We researched the heck out of pigeons, and this is the best answer," said Roth, who estimates he's spent close to 500 hours researching pigeons in recent years.

    "It's so heart-wrenching to see the look in the birds' eyes when they die," he said. "[And that is why] I don't have a life.  I have a crusade."