"Through a barrage of shells and bullets he rose,
circled, and, like a dart,
headed for home. There was a sudden burst of shrapnel and Cher Ami was
hit. He straightened out and, with one leg utterly shattered, reached .
Rampont in twenty-five minutes, covering a distance of forty kilometers,
although the missile which carried away his leg had also passed through
breast. The message holder was attached to the wounded leg, hanging by a
few shreds of sinew. Cher Ami that day saved the members of the 'Lost
It is not the pigeons' choice to be here. Our most
prevalent urban birds,
pigeons, or rock doves, were domesticated early in history and brought
country by the first settlers. These birds are closely related to homing
who helped deliver messages during battles in World Wars I and II and
Korean War. Cher Ami is not the only pigeon whose amazing flights were
documented during the World Wars.
Pigeons pair for life, and both parents care for their young. Pigeons
large numbers in order to protect themselves against cats, hawks, owls,
rats. Even so, up to 35 percent of a pigeon population may perish
from natural causes and predators. Pigeons naturally stabilize their own
populations in accordance with food supply and other factors.
Many city residents and visitors find pigeons pleasant
Pigeons are amiable and give human city dwellers the welcome chance to
interact with a species other than their own.
These birds are very intelligent. "Pigeons commit new
images to memory at
lightning speed. . . . They organize images of things into the same
categories that human beings use when we conceptualize."(2)
The Coast Guard trained pigeons to peck a key when they
spot the bright
orange color used for life vests. The birds, suspended in a transparent
from a helicopter, are extremely adept at spotting the vests floating in
ocean, thus saving lives.
Pigeons' navigational abilities, which are largely
dependent on keen vision
and a superlative memory for topographic details, are legendary.
pigeons rarely carry messages anymore, they are still used for emergency
flights in London to carry blood samples from hospitals to laboratories.
The Myth of Disease
The most widespread misconception about urban pigeons is that they are
carriers of disease. Pest control companies charge them with
histoplasmosis, toxoplasmosis, psittacosis, cryptococcosis,
meningitis, tuberculosis, and encephalitis.
The truth is that the vast majority of people are at
little or no health risk from
pigeons and probably have a greater chance of being struck by lightning
than contracting a serious disease from pigeons.(3) In fact, a child
school is many times more likely to get a disease from another child
Of these diseases, histoplasmosis and cryptococcosis are
the only ones that
could be linked to large bird populations, even though pigeons
not infected with and are not carriers of the diseases. These fungi
naturally in soil. When bird droppings mix with the soil over a period
they can enrich the soil in a way that favors development of airborne
and people who live near sites where pigeons roost may be exposed. The
symptoms of infection generally resemble a mild cold. People recover
medical intervention and develop a natural resistance against further
Much of the population has already been affected, developed an immunity,
and never been aware of it.(4) Histoplasma fungus and infection are
on intensive chicken farms.
Salmonellosis and toxoplasmosis are more commonly
undercooked, contaminated meat.(5)
There is no evidence linking the other diseases to
pigeons and, in fact, most
of them are so common in nature, so rare in humans, or so mild in their
symptoms that pigeon control is pointless.
Humane Pigeon Control
When it comes to controlling populations of pigeons, an ounce of
is worth a pound of cure. Pigeons and other birds settle in areas that
needs. Therefore, an effective program of pigeon control consists of
the designated area as uninviting as possible. For starters, don't feed
and eliminate food and litter from the area. Excluding birds from an
conditioning them to avoid the area are both effective and humane ways
dealing with a pigeon overpopulation problem.
Very simple modifications in a building's structure can
discourage birds from
landing or nesting on the building. Steel, wood, or stone angled on
ledges prevents pigeons from nesting in the holes. Open areas, such as
lofts, or eaves, can be sealed up to prevent pigeons from nesting in the
Bird barriers, including a thin metal coil resembling a "slinky" toy,
fastened to a building ledge to discourage birds from landing.
NEVER use sticky, transparent, bird "repellent" caulk.
This substance is
applied to ledges in the hope that birds will land, feel the stickiness
caulk, and fly off, never to return. It is extremely dangerous because
can easily get stuck to the ledges and lose wings and/or legs trying to
themselves or their wings may stick to their bodies, causing them to
they try to fly. They can also ingest the substance trying to clean
and die miserably of poisoning.
Conditioning birds to avoid an area should be done as
early as possible, in
order to effectively discourage the birds from settling in. Recorded
distress calls are available to warn birds away from an area. Loud
such as radios or windchimes, are sometimes effective, as are visual
rents such as revolving lights, mirrors, or effigies of predator birds.
Frederick, Md., citizens installed brightly colored balloons with huge
on them which scared the pigeons into moving away from the downtown
When conditioning birds to avoid an area, it is important to vary the
so the pigeons do not get accustomed to the noises, mirrors, etc.
Poisoning pigeons is not a humane method of population
control for obvious
reasons. Moreover, poisoning is unlikely to have any lasting impact on
number of pigeons in a given area. The number of pigeons that occupy an
area depends upon the availability of food, space, and shelter. If some
pigeons are shot or poisoned, more pigeons will only take their place,
ing the flock back to its original size. Any successful method of bird
must concentrate on prevention and making the location inhospitable to
1.Levi, Wendell M., The Pigeon, (Sumter, S.C., 1969). 2.Browne, Malcolm
W., "How Do
You Tell a Chair From a Cat?" The New York Times, December 6, 1988.
Charlotte, Ph.D., Report for the Cincinnati Environmental Advisory
4.Garza, Nora N., "Pigeons," Bartlesville (Okla.) Examiner-Enterprise,
Feb. 18, 1990.
5.Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Ga.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals- 501 Front Street - Norfolk,
23510 - 757-622-PETA (7382
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