Close up on pigeons

Despite scientific evidence which proves conclusively that killing pigeons actually increases numbers, there are probably more slaughtered in pest control operations than any other species. Pest control is a multi-billion dollar industry and to stop offering lethal control would be commercial suicide for all but the largest companies.

We are told that pigeons carry up to 60 diseases and pose a very considerable potential health risk to human beings. What we are not told, however, is that all wild birds carry these diseases and pigeons pose no greater threat than the average garden bird. As the RSPB recently stated, “the whole ‘rats with wings’ thing is just emotive nonsense. There is no evidence to show that they (pigeons) spread disease”.

We are also told that pigeons cause damage to buildings each year because of their acidic droppings. Yet there are a huge arsenal of proofing products to prevent this problem.

Most councils and property management agencies resort to culling as the ultimate quick fix. They can pick up the phone and a few days later a pest control company will arrive in the dead of night and shoot or trap the birds. They write a cheque and the problem is over – or so they mistakenly believe. In the case of local authorities, culling is popular because they are seen to be doing something about pigeon numbers to appease their commercial ratepayers.

The fact that the population will rise above pre-cull numbers within a matter of weeks is ignored.

So what are the solutions?

It is a common misconception amongst pigeon feeders that birds breed regardless of food supply and that they will starve to death if quantities are reduced. This is not the case. Pigeon numbers are dictated by the extent of available food and the only real way to control numbers is to reduce the amount they eat. On average, a pair of pigeons will breed 4-6 times a year, but breeding will increase dramatically if the food supply increases. Conversely, if availability is reduced gradually, pigeons will simply slow down breeding or stop altogether. Flock size is thereby lowered.

So one of the hardest tasks is to persuade well-meaning pigeon lovers not to feed. They must realise that unlimited feeding on a regular basis causes overpopulation, resulting inevitably in others deciding to cull.

There are other humane means of controlling pigeon numbers. One of the most effective is to provide artificial nesting sites where birds are encouraged to roost and nest. Eggs are then removed. Research has proved this method of control to be extremely effective when combined with a reduction in food supply. If eggs are removed regularly it does not appear to cause distress to the birds, and irrespective of any reservations we might feel about this type of interference, it has to be a better option than killing. Alongside the artificial nesting sites, designated feeding areas can be provided so that those who do wish to feed can do so legitimately. Excess food can be removed by the local authority. And since pigeons are being confined to one nesting/roosting site, their excrement can easily be cleaned and is not spread around town centre buildings.

The first commercial sized dovecote in the UK was erected by Barking and Dagenham Council in 2000, in a blaze of very positive publicity. Malvern Hills Council in Worcestershire is also in the process of building a large dovecote, while another at Heath Park Hospital in Cardiff will open later this year. Many other councils around the UK are following suit.

Nottingham City Hospital ceased culling in 2000 and adopted a comprehensive humane control system, including artificial nesting facilities and the provision of extensive proofing works. It has recently announced that the pigeon population on the site (estimated to be 1200 birds in 2000) has been reduced by 50%. The NHS Trust is delighted with the results and will now continue with this humane non-lethal control mechanism indefinitely.

Article written by Guy Merchant from the Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PICAS),