by Maggie Menderski (via Quincy Herald-Whig)
HANNIBAL MO. — The Hannibal City Council thought it had addressed a problem with pigeons.
Now it is being forced to address pigeon activism.
A large flock of pigeons roost atop the steeple of the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Hannibal, Mo. The City of Hannibal is looking for solutions to control the pigeons. (Image credit: H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Councilmen unanimously voted Oct. 16 to accept a bid from Reliable Pest Solutions to handle the local pigeon population with poisoned feed. Garry Allen, general manager of Reliable, estimated 500 pigeons live in Hannibal, and this surplus of birds causes a danger to the community’s property and health.
Since that vote, People for Ethnical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has sent a letter asking for the city to cancel the plan, and news sources nationwide have picked up on the story. The negative press has caused Reliable and another local company, Big River Pest Control, to withdraw their estimates from the project.
“If Hannibal officials have decided that poisoning is the best way to control the pigeon population, they simply haven’t done their homework,” PETA Senior Vice President of Cruelty Investigations Daphna Nachminovitch said in a press release. “It’s unconscionable that the city would subject birds to agony and its own citizens to the spectacle of having to watch birds convulse in the streets when humane, proven and cost-effective measures are readily available.”
PETA Senior Cruelty Caseworker Kristin Simon said the organization had received several emails expressing concerns for the pigeons and the community. Her letter to Hannibal Mayor Roy Hark states that the poison, Avitol, would impair the birds’ the nervous systems. After consumption, the pigeons suffer from disorientation, which leads to erratic flight and eventual death.
“Everyone has a big concern and a right to a big concern with such dangerous (chemical),” Simon said.
Since the media explosion, Allen has fielded dozens of phone calls regarding the poisoning method. Councilman Mike Dobson, who supported the method during the Oct. 16 city council meeting, has answered several calls as well, but the complaints he’s heard have come from outside Hannibal.
“I haven’t had one phone call with a local person against it,” he said.
The $3,560 bid from Reliable Pest Solutions would have required the city to gain access to local businesses and place poisoned feed on the top of buildings for the pigeons to eat. The poison would then have killed a small amount of the birds and startled the rest out of the city.
Allen said this method had been successful with local business owners in the past several years.
“The problem with it is that we didn’t keep it up,” Allen said. “You just can’t do it once and walk away.”
Pigeons, starlings and sparrows are the only three birds classified as pests. Because of birds’ habits and flocking tendencies, exterminators may diminish the population just as they would handle a surplus cockroaches or ants. Allen said pest control companies use poisons in some situations, but the products are not used carelessly.
“It doesn’t make sense for a responsible company to do something irresponsible,” he said. “You don’t make money.”
Dobson supported the poison method because he has seen it work firsthand for a company in Quincy. While Avitrol may shock the pigeon population out of Hannibal, Simon feared the poison could harm domestic animals as well as other birds and wildlife. Allen said only 10 percent of the feed would be poisoned. Dobson reasoned a 100-pound dog would have to eat a minimum of 15 pigeons before the poison in the feed would cause the dog to be sick.
“If I was in the business of killing people’s pets, then you don’t have a business,” Allen said.
The city now must pursue another solution. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had submitted a $6,700 bid for a pellet gun program, which would also involve pigeon mortality.
Dobson also has been in contact with a horse whisperer for pigeons. Horse whisperers adopt training and handling techniques for horses that are kinder and gentler than traditional methods. This person has offered to come speak with the birds at no cost to the city.
Simon recommended installing anti-roosting products such as bird spikes, slides and coils. She also suggested implementing statues of natural predators, creating a wildlife feeding prohibition, keeping garbage tightly contained and avoiding artificial sources of standing water.
Allen also had presented the city with a birth control plan for the pigeons. The process involves providing sterilizing feed to the population and then letting them die off naturally without being able to reproduce. This process requires more money to pay for continuous feeding. It also happens gradually, rather than in a couple weeks’ time.
During the Oct. 16 meeting, Dobson stressed nuisance and dangers pigeons cause to a city. Pigeon feces, which is acidic, wears away at roofs and damages cars, and it also can cause health-related issues.
Marion County Health Department Administrator Jean McBride declined to comment about potential health hazards pigeons might have on the community.
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website, pigeon droppings pose a small health risk. Humans may contract histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis and psittacosis by inhaling particles from pigeon droppings. Cleaning pigeon droppings does not pose a serious health risk to most people, but avoiding direct contact with the droppings is recommended. People cleaning feces off a car or a windowsill should wear disposable gloves and washable clothing.
Allen said the pigeons have taken to Hannibal for its architecture and river access, explaining that they look for structures to sit on and ways to obtain food.
“It’s all about habitat, and they found a place they like,” he said.
Hark anticipates a solution would be discussed at the Nov. 6 council meeting.
“We’re still looking at what we can do, but we haven’t made a decision,” Hark said.