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There have been two articles about feral pigeons in my area. One about the problem of pigeons breeding under a railway bridge, and another about using a hawk to scare pigeons away from a certain area in town.

I know the bridge mentioned in the first article, I’ve been under it and have seen the pigeon population that breeds there. Since the design of the bridge is perfect for pigeons – with ledges and nooks and crannies – pigeons naturally choose to roost and nest under them.

Since these types of bridges normally have a busy road under them I always fear for the baby pigeons that might accidentally fall from their nest. I would personally like to see the bridge netted off to prevent pigeons from nesting there (purely to stop baby pigeons from falling to their death), however, it would need to be done properly so that the pigeons could not get through and become stuck.

What I’m worried about is what will happen to the existing baby pigeons under the bridge. Will they be “rehomed” as the councillor is suggesting or will they simply be killed by the pest control company? I will be contacting the relevant people about this matter.

Councillor vows he will clip the wings of pigeon problem

Friday, March 11, 2011, 08:00

By Helen Kitchener (helen.kitchener@courier.co.uk)

It has been a slimy, unpleasant problem for more than 15 years – but now a Sherwood councillor has pledged to tackle the scourge of pigeon droppings from Sandhurst Road railway bridge once and for all.

For several years councillors and residents have lobbied Network Rail, which owns the bridge, to clean it up and move the pigeons which roost there but to no avail.

Recently elected councillor Bob Backhouse, who lives round the corner from the bridge, said it was high time the disgusting mess was tackled. But Mr Backhouse was quick to point out he was “not declaring war on pigeons”.

“This is one of those issues which sounds trivial but when you go out knocking on doors people want it sorted,” said Mr Backhouse. “Just the other day I heard from a woman who was pushing a double buggy and one of the pigeons dumped on her. It’s happened to me when I was walking into town and I had to turn round and go home to wash my hair.”

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council employs a contractor to spray the area around the bridge with antiseptic on a regular basis.

“I’ve been assured by the borough council there’s a file about four inches thick on it,” said Mr Backhouse. “The council has really tried but has come up against a brick wall with Network Rail. I understand they have much more important things to sort out but they seem to have quite a cavalier attitude.”

Mr Backhouse is pushing for the railway authority to rehouse the animals and put up netting after they had bred to stop them returning.

“It’s one of those things that if we get it done it will make a lot of folk happy,” he added.

Network Rail refused to comment.

(From: http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/news/Councillor-vows-clip-wings-pigeon-problem/article-3317091-detail/article.html)

Sandhurst Road railway bridge:

sandhurst-road-pigeon-bridge2

(Photo from: http://kevinlynes.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/sandhurst-road-railway-bridge-a-real-bird-puller/)

The second article is about the fact that some traders are fed up with the local feral pigeons and the mess they leave. They take the usual ignorant stance that pigeons are dirty and a health hazard and therefore need to go (please see my post: Feral pigeons and disease). I understand that their droppings can damage buildings, etc., however, without barring off the nesting sites and ridding the place of waste food, the pigeons will stay in the area. A few hours in the week of a hawk flying about won’t deter them.

While I applaud the traders efforts to find a humane solution to their so-called pigeon problem, it is flawed and will most likely be ineffective. My worry is that once they’ve realised that their hawk plan isn’t working they’ll turn to inhumane actions.

As far as I can tell from the original article, the hawk isn’t trained to catch the pigeons, only to fly about and scare them off by its presence.

Hawk hired to scare away Tunbridge Wells pigeons

Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The hawk in the Pantiles

The hawk’s profile while in flight scares away the pigeons
Kent traders have employed a bird of prey to scare away pigeons they said are damaging historic buildings.

Several businesses on the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells have joined forces to pay for the hire of the Harris hawk.

Richard Simm, chair of the Association of Pantiles Traders said the pigeons are destroying buildings, and putting off tourists.

Simm has tried playing sounds of the pigeons’ predators through speakers, but with no effect.

He said he is hoping that the landlords or the Traders Association will be able to help with funding for the bird.

“The hawk is quite an expensive way of dealing with the pigeons, but it is done in a humane way.”

(From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/kent/hi/people_and_places/nature/newsid_9425000/9425811.stm)


Bird droppings (guano, dung or manure) consists of both faeces and urine since birds excrete through the cloaca, a single opening, in contrast to mammals that excrete through two separate openings. You therefore see a darker section (the faeces) and a whitish section (the urine) in a typical bird dropping (Loon, 2005).

While some bird species keep their nests clean by removing or eating their chicks droppings, pigeons and doves don’t go to such lengths – rather both the adults and the chicks deposit their droppings right in and around the nest. Seems unhygienic, however, this practice is thought to serve an important function, as stated by Loon (2005, p.181): “They act as cement to bind the flimsy twig nest together, a structural improvement that becomes increasingly important as the chicks get bigger.”

When looking into the subject of using pigeon droppings as fertiliser, I came across the usual ignorant and prejudice remarks in certain Q & A websites, such as, “No, never use pigeon droppings! Pigeons are diseased and dirty.” You get my drift. Don’t listen to these people. They don’t know what they’re saying.

Side note: Pigeons pose no serious health risk. If you doubt me please go to: Pigeons Do NOT Present a Health Hazard to Humans and Feral pigeons and disease – do pigeons carry disease?.

Pigeon guano was in fact commonly used for centuries as a prized fertiliser. It was also used to manufacture a critical ingredient of gunpowder: saltpetre (Blechman, 2006).

I did find many gardener and organic growing websites that praised the use of pigeon dung as fertiliser. In fact, pigeon dung rates higher than other manures, with 4.2% nitrogen, 3% phosphorous, and 1.4% potassium (see: Using Manure to Fertilize Your Garden).

Steve Harris (2010) states in his article (see references): “In addition to food, pigeons produced valuable guano so rich in nutrients that one load of it was worth 10 from any other species. In many countries, pigeon dung actually played a key part in agricultural development.”

So why is it not as valuable today? Well, commercially other manures seemed to have become more popular and sold as fertiliser (because of availability), and nowadays pigeon dung is considered more of a health hazard and aesthetic nuisance. Due to the acidic nature of pigeon dung people are becoming upset that it will corrode buildings and monuments where pigeons congregate in large flocks, especially in cities (Blechman, 2006).

Now I must add the usual caution here (just to cover my back). If you are going to deal with large quantities of pigeon droppings (or any faeces for that matter) then please use some common sense. Wear a mask and gloves. However, there is no reason to become hysterical. Please have a read through the folllowing two websites that clearly state that it is extremely unlikely that you will catch any diseases from pigeon dung (unless you have a compromised immune system, in which case you shouldn’t be handling any type of droppings): Facts about pigeon-related diseases, Pigeon Droppings and Cleaning pigeon droppings.

So while seeing statues and buildings splattered with pigeon droppings might be unpleasant to the eye, maybe there is a peaceful solution? Remove the droppings and use it as fertiliser! :)

* * * * * * * *

References:

  • Blechman, Andrew D. (2006). Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird. Grove Press, New York.
  • Loon, Rael and Hélène. (2005). Birds, The Inside Story. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Harris, Steve. (2010). BBC Wildlife magazine. Feral pigeon: flying rat or urban hero? [online]. [Accessed 4th December 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.bbcwildlifemagazine.com/british-wildlife/feral-pigeon-flying-rat-or-urban-hero