Sunday, September 13, 2009

PETA, Paul, and Pigeons

Let me say right upfront that, contrary to the above headline, there is no "Paul" in this post. It was a cheap alliterative trick that brought back fond memories of the singing trio.

Now to the matter: I have been remiss. I've been avoiding reviving the pigeon saga (see Lull's July 5th entry, "What Would PETA Do?") for a number of reasons, not least of which is every time I thought the saga had come to a close, it would magically reopen again.

Working Birds
The day I began researching the birds, a pigeon in South America made headlines. It was caught smuggling a cellphone into a prison for one of the residents. Of course you know pigeons have served for centuries as postal carriers, but did you also know these versatile birds operate in search-and-rescue missions because of their exceptional eyesight? What's more, pigeons can hear sound at lower frequencies than humans—for instance, thunderstorms and volcanoes in the distance, wind blowing across a building—which may account for the sudden and seemingly senseless need for flocks of pigeons to take flight from a telephone wire.

Diverse Family Tree
Pigeons may all look the same to you, but that's only because you probably see just a few types in your part of the world. They range in size from the dimensions of a sparrow to those of a turkey and may be found in nearly every corner of the Earth (except Antarctica, the high Arctic, and the driest part of the Sahara). They've been here for millions of years.
Though scientists have studied the showier breeds, little research has been conducted on the pigeons common to inner cities. (Cornell ornithologists are working on filling this gap. You can help them with Project PigeonWatch.)

It Takes a Family to Raise a Colony
Pigeons mate for life and share in parenting duties. In fact, both genders produce the nutrient-rich "crop milk" for their offspring, and both incubate the eggs. And it was at this point in my research that the messy pigeons on our back stairway were beginning to endear themselves to me.

I learned that it wouldn't take long for the eggs to hatch and not long after that, the fledglings would be ready to take off and we could encourage the families to look for a new residence.

I started noticing banded pigeons and wondered where their homes were. (I'm not good at catching birds so was unable to help them return to their guardians.)

But upon further reading, a harsh reality set in.

Each mated pair could raise multiple families in one year; the extended family would stick around and raise their own broods on the stairs; they posed health risks to our pets.

They had to go.

I read lots of forums about pigeon-removal best practices and for every method that worked at one apartment building, it didn't work at another. There didn't seem to be a solution. Until I started reviewing all the years I've lived here and why we never had this problem before: cats. And not even killer-instinct cats. Even my super-sweet special-needs cat did the trick.

However, before I could appeal to the other tenants to rescue a few shelter cats to guard against pigeon population growth, the feathered critters were gone. I don't know why, and I don't want to know.

But I'm grateful for the motivation to learn more about a remarkable bird typically regarded as a stupid pest.

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