"The poop problem has become unmanageable."

Hollywood Pigeons to Be Put on the Pill

Over the next few months a birth control product called OvoControl P, which interferes with egg development, will be placed in bird food in new rooftop feeders.

"We think we've got a good solution to a bad situation," said Laura Dodson, president of the Argyle Civic Association, the group leading the effort to try the new contraceptive. "The poop problem has become unmanageable and this could be the answer."

Dodson said representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals contacted her group with the idea to use OvoControl P. Other animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, support the contraceptive over electric shock gates, spiked rooftops, poisons or other methods.

I think the ubiquitous pigeon-spikes and mesh fences covering every statuary alcove are a far bigger architectural blight than the poop they are intended to avoid, so I'm all for it.

Now if only we could put human birth control in the water supply, we'd really be getting somewhere.

By the way, why is it that 99% of the birds you see in cities are pigeons? What makes them so much more successful than any of the others? Does it have something to do with their greasy coating or their deformed club-feet?

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49 Responses:

  1. boggyb says:

    There's a nice method that some places use to control pigeons: hawks.

    Peregrines like nesting on skyscrapers, and apparently like the taste of pigeons.

    • dr_memory says:

      Unfortunately, there's a literally fatal incompatibility between that method and more normal pigeon-control tactics: hawks that eat poisoned pigeons (which are often the easiest prey) tend to die of the poison themselves.

    • phoenixredux says:

      I accidentally interrupted a peregrine mid-breakfast recently. She was in the middle of a bike trail. I came around the corner, and there she was! Good thing I was already coasting to a stop. It was so cool. She looked up at me, squawked as if to say, "This is MY breakfast - get your own pigeon!" Then she spread her wings and flew away with it in her claws. It was absolutely incredible. I wouldn't mind having more falcons around like that. Nobody likes pigeons, anyway, except for hawks who find them tasty.

    • rapier1 says:

      This is probably why there are not so many pigeons in Pittsburgh. We have lots of hawks and peregrines in our city. Nothing quite like watching a hawk dive down on a pigeon at 40 miles an hour.

  2. bebopmonkey says:

    i know something of their deformed club feet, although the information may not be reliable- apparently one of the pigeon-deterrent devices used is some form of mildly acidic gunk that's supposed to keep them off ledges and such. it eats away at their feet. and obviously doesnt work.

    • soupkills says:

      A friend of mine very much into rats said that the rats will bite onto pigeon feet and not let go until they have gnawed through.

    • gytterberg says:

      I'd always heard it was from perching on exposed metal in the winter. They can puff themselves up and tuck one leg up into themselves, but if they're not timely with switching legs the exposed one can get frostbitten.

  3. lnghnds says:

    Now if only we could put human birth control in the water supply, we'd really be getting somewhere.

    Yes...then maybe we could get rid of the spikes they put on flat surfaces to keep humans from sitting (and pooping?) there.

  4. curlyeric says:

    Why not just poison the f-ers? In one or two dosings they could have the same effect with a fraction of the cost of a sustained effort to keep them on birth control ( if it even works in the first place ).

    All this PS "let's not hurt the poor creatures" crap. They do this non-lethal crow dispersal locally and it requires them sounding horns and setting off flares for a week... a week that everyone has to put up with the horns and flares as well! Just shoot the damn birds and get it over with!

    • wikkit42 says:

      Animal populations have unexpected responses to massive killings. Sometimes you end up with a higher population afterwards than you had before the kill because you've suddenly opened up a bunch of territory and freed a lot of resources, so they breed even faster than usual.

      There is no way you can kill every one of any pest animal in a city, so measures like this that aim to lower the population at equilibrium are more effective.

    • quercus says:

      You can't poison or shoot pigeons. Their breeding capacity is apparently near infinite, limited only by the available food supply. Even if you manage to kill most of them off, they'll just breed their numbers back up as soon as your back's turned. Contraception is effective because it attacks their best weapon, the breeding rate.

      • Right. To clarify for other readers, if you keep a large number of pigeons live but infertile, they'll compete with the pigeons who escaped infertility and prevent them from getting as much food and shelter as they otherwise would. That means that you also lower the fertility rate of the pigeons you didn't manage to drug.

        • gryazi says:

          There's also direct competition for copulatory events -- every hookup with a pigeon-on-the-pill is one that isn't happening with a fertile partner, assuming this doesn't interfere with whatever signals the birds use to negotiate such things.

          This specific method is used in insect control, where masses of sterilized bugs are released just to thin the successful matings out.

          • Oh, duh. Of course.

            Since you seem to know about the technique, maybe you can help me understand: what happens after it's been successful for a few generations? You should now have a much smaller population, meaning that the non-drugged individuals will have lots of resources at their disposal, even if some of their copulations don't pan out. Does the math still work against them? Or do most implementations of this technique manage to sterilize an increasing proportion of the population as the absolute number drops?

  5. xenogram says:

    In my country it's seagulls, not pigeons. We do have pigeons, but for some reason (probably to do with the proximity of the ocean to just about everywhere) the seagulls are much more successful.

    • I see you're here in NZ too...the seagulls here are nothing compared to Australia. I actually commented just a few weeks ago on how few seagulls there are here. In Sydney, you can't go anywhere without pigeons and/or seagulls. I had a pigeon poop on my arm outside the Hilton Hotel in December.

    • belgand says:

      Odd... we have a large number of gulls here in SF as well, but they definitely don't out-compete the pigeons and you rarely see them further than a mile inland.

      The gulls are a little bit nicer, but unfortunately they also have the side effect of being complete dicks to ducks.

      • xenogram says:

        I've seen these same gulls 90km inland, in sub-alpine terrain (come to think of it, there's lakes all through that area though). I imagine they're different gulls from the ones in San Francisco.

  6. g_na says:

    Now if only we could put human birth control in the water supply, we'd really be getting somewhere.

    If only. I'm also a big supporter of only giving welfare money to people who have been sterilized (and that's just one of my less drastic ideas).

    By the way, why is it that 99% of the birds you see in cities are pigeons?

    Pigeons live and nest on rocks, which are essentially the same as concrete. (The inverse of this is why you never see pigeons outside of cities.) It's an ideal environment for them, coupled with all the food bits lying about for them to eat.

    • jwz says:

      I've heard that (the rock thing) before, but it always seemed like a non-answer... I mean, surely there are a zillion species of bird who live in rocks and cliffs? What with the wings and all. But it's just this one species that has displaced almost all the others in cities.

      • g_na says:

        It's not just a question of being able to access the cliffs, it's also a combination of preferred territory, available food source, and being able to tolerate human presence, pollution, etc.

        As someone else pointed out, peregrine falcons also nest on cliffs and love to eat other birds. They are one raptor which has, on occasion, successfully lived in cities. (And that's one more reason to not use poison to eliminate pigeons - it can end up in the falcons and other predators and kill them off.)

        Some species of birds prefer things like forests or grasslands to rocks & cliffs, or else their food source cannot be found there. And most wild animals just plain ol' don't like people, so they avoid them whenever possible. Since urban areas are so densely populated, this is probably the main reason why non-pigeon birds are hardly seen in busy cities.

    • badgerbag says:

      why not sterilize really really rich people? then they can't lock up all their filthy money for their family.

      Yeah! eugenics to breed out evil capitalists...


  7. tjcrowley says:

    Something that most people don't know is that pigeon droppings are so high in nitrates that they used to use them to make gunpowder. For this reason I think they shouldn't be wiped out totally, but I don't like pigeons very much.

    As far as why they are so successful -- they are literally rats with wings, as much as people refer to them as such.

  8. mc_kingfish says:

    One thing I'd heard is that pigeons' (original) natural habitat was high rock walls (cliffs, etc.) Obviously there are only so many places like this in nature --until Mankind started building them sky-high with so many lovely nooks and crannies on 'em for nesting (and pooping.)

  9. decibel45 says:

    One great thing about Austin is that we don't have pigeons here. We do have grackles, which people love to bitch about, but they're *WAY* better than pigeons.

    There's also a flock of parakeets in NYC that are thriving. Apparently they're pack-like and will defend each other, so nothing screws with them.

    • quercus says:

      We have grockles here in Somerset too, it's our local word for Summer tourists.

      Do you recommend shooting or poisoning the little blighters?

      • decibel45 says:

        I recommend bringing in pigeons to chase them out. After which you'll be wanting to trade the pigeons back for grockles. :P

        BTW, note that we have grackles in Austin. :)

        • quercus says:

          Ah. Grockles might have their faults, but at least they don't shit on you from the trees. Often.

          I went to Austin once. Couldn't believe I was in Texas, it was such a nice place.

        • cayennesauce says:

          Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
          Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're
          overrun by lizards?
          Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese
          needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
          Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?
          Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous
          type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
          Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!
          Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around,
          the gorillas simply freeze to death.

    • cetan says:

      see also:


      Most major cities have some flock of exotic birds that have managed to survive.

  10. quercus says:

    Open a branch of Dollywood nearby, like they did in Gatlinburg, TN.

    It's tacky as hell, but it sure did for the Passenger Pigeon. Used to be millions of the things there, now there's a stripmall of fried chicken joints. You do the math.

  11. runehog says:

    my theory is that pigeons do so well in cities 'cuz they're too dumb to die.

  12. Getting rich seems to control the population of first world countries quite well, as in "below replacement-level fertility." The cover and leader of this week's issue of The Economist concerns Japan's problems in this regard, with some more generally applicable suggestions.

  13. Pass the ammunition; I need target practice.