Port Washington has a problem that continues to go unnoticed by most residents of this community; that is the large population of feral pigeons that inhabit our commercial buildings and homes.
Pigeons, also called Rock Doves, are a non-native species that mate for life and breed six times a year producing two squabs per clutch. The fledglings rarely go far from the site where they were raised, choosing to stay close to home to rear their own young. If you do the math, one breeding pair and its offspring can produce 432 new pigeons in three years.
Their nests, also occupied for life, are built on narrow outcroppings of buildings, awnings and roofs - any place they can get a foothold. These nests are constructed from a mixture of rummaged items and their own dried excrement.
Pigeon feces contain over 40 diseases that pose a threat to humans. Recently the World Health Organization confirmed that a 39-year-old West Jakarta man died of avian flu he contracted after cleaning pigeon feces off gutters. That's noteworthy considering that officials believe the avian flu could reach North America as early as the fall of 2006.
Not only are their droppings a health risk but they also contain uric acid, which is corrosive to property, including cement. A short walk along Main Street reveals restaurants and buildings covered in bird droppings that are an eyesore and are ruining valuable property.
It's not that nothing is being done to stop this, but just how effective are our methods?
Europe, with its high concentration of pigeons inhabiting monuments and historical buildings, has tried a number of unsuccessful control methods: extermination, loud noises, netting, spikes and even birth control pills. Why do we, here in the United States, continue to follow their example and use methods that have proven to be ineffective?
Numerous local businesses have made futile attempts at placing spikes on buildings to keep pigeons off façades. Main Street's Landmark building has erected a bird-net to keep nesting pigeons out of its interior courtyard and the Sousa Band Shell is also in the process of erecting a net to keep birds from roosting inside. Frustrated apartment dwellers have placed all sorts of devices on balconies to deter pigeons from roosting, all to no avail.
The town needs to adopt a comprehensive plan and a new approach to limit pigeon flocks.
According to the worldwide Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PiCAS) the two most successful methods of pigeon population control are restrictive feeding and culling the eggs.
Pigeons are not fussy eaters and once fed, will return every day to the same site for food. Restricted feeding simply limits places where you can legally feed these birds. This doesn't come without its share of problems, however, since convincing people to stop feeding pigeons in restricted areas is very difficult. It is an emotional issue for most people, so laws with fines would have to be enacted to help people to stop.
In England's Trafaglar Square and many other places around the world including San Francisco, it has become illegal to feed pigeons. People who do feed them face fines from $45 to $300.
While restricting feeding in most areas, sites have to be provided where people can legally feed the pigeons without fear of harassment. Providing such sites in conjunction with restricted feeding in other areas will solve this problem.
The second method, culling the eggs, has been the most successful. In places where this plan has been enacted, populations of pigeons have been cut in half in a year. It works as follows:
Large coops or dovecotes are built in a designated area. The birds are then attracted to those coops with food, water and nesting sites. The coops are closely monitored (remember, they breed six times a year), the eggs are taken and dummy eggs are put in their place. This method, compared to the expense of cleaning buildings, monuments and other sites, is very cost effective. (see www.picas.org.uk for more information.)
Port Washington residents have always taken pride in their community and we would be negligent to see this problem go unaddressed. I propose an active campaign to make it illegal to feed these birds, especially around schools and an extensive education program directed toward people to help them understand not to feed the birds. Perhaps a long-term solution such as England's Pigeon Advisory Council's model of culling the eggs is needed. I urge you to contact your community leaders to voice your opinion on this issue.