Too much of a good thing

Rock pigeon flock (photo by Chuck Tague)

July 30, 2008:

Being a peregrine fanatic I’m kind of fond of pigeons – at least from the prey point of view – so when I was in downtown Pittsburgh on Sunday I stopped by Mellon Square to check out the scene.

Even for a peregrine falcon the number of pigeons at Mellon Square is way too much of a good thing.  I counted more than 150 and I couldn’t see all of them.  The pigeons outnumbered people more than 30 to 1.

This explains why peregrines hang out on the Oliver Building window sills.  It’s like visiting an all-you-can-eat restaurant.  The food may not be that great but there’s so much of it!

This kind of pigeon over-population repulses most people and they want a quick fix, the quickest being poison.  But if you poison a pigeon, you’ll poison a peregrine.  After a culling episode pigeons reproduce fast to fill the void – in fact lethal control actually increases the flock – but the peregrines take years to recover.  And peregrines are endangered in Pennsylvania.  It’s bad, bad, bad to poison an endangered species.

So what to do?

Pigeons need two things to reach the numbers found at Mellon Square:  lots of food and places to nest.  They reproduce in direct proportion to their food supply.  If food is scarce some won’t nest at all.  If food is plentiful they lay the next clutch of eggs before the first set has hatched, producing more than 12 chicks per year.

The food problem is obvious.  Sidewalks at Mellon Square are coated with bird seed. Control the food source (the people who feed them) and you’ve got most of the problem licked.   To make a really dramatic difference, control the nest sites as well.

City pigeons nest on buildings and bridges.  They also nest in buildings.   Find the buildings involved and spend the time and money to block the access holes.  Last summer the University of Pittsburgh cleaned the Cathedral of Learning and blocked off the pigeon nest holes as part of the cleaning job.  One year later there are far fewer pigeons at Schenley Plaza.

And finally, there’s a foolproof solution that makes both the pigeon-feeders and the pigeon-haters happy.  Many European cities have solved their pigeon problem permanently by building dovecotes and pigeon lofts.  Yes, they built nest sites.  They control the population at the dovecotes by substituting dummy eggs and they control the food level by giving pigeon lovers an approved place to feed and interact with the birds.

This keeps the pigeons and the birdseed off the street.  An elegant solution.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

7 thoughts on “Too much of a good thing

  1. Thanks for another great blog post…I like how you not only bring up a current problem, but offer solutions…too many people just dwell on all the negatives which depresses me to the point that I feel helpless in changing the situation. Keep up the level-headed posts!

  2. I worked downtown for a number of years. It always killed me to see people sitting right under the “do not feed the pigeons” signs with a loaf of stale bread or a bag of bird seed. I can certainly understand the desire to feed birds (and have been guilty of occasionally tossing something to the seagulls at my usual rest stop on I-90) but, as you eloquently point out, pigeons are doing just fine without extra helpings! I do like the European idea, have you pitched this to the city? I’d be happy to sign on!

  3. I haven’t pitched this to the city but I mentioned it yesterday to a friend in Public Works.

    Yes, it could be done – but I know that to really make it happen takes the dedication of volunteers and/or an organization who make it a priority and keep it alive.

    Examples of successes in this fashion, on topics other than pigeons, are the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest.

    I’m hoping some of my readers will be inspired!

  4. \ has all the answers to pigeon control and other bird pest problems. You can even buy online for those do-it-yourselfers.

  5. Sad to say, Sarah, those pigeon control methods won’t solve the problem and could hurt other birds. Especially beware of sticky stuff! It’s bad for the building and the birds.

    Food supply is the cause of pigeon overpopulation and it’s the solution.

    I used to have pigeons at my backyard feeders who perched on my roof. I did two things to solve this:
    1) I put screens over my chimney – they’d been nesting inside it. This didn’t get rid of the nests in my neighbors’ chimneys but then…
    2) I removed the food.

    No pigeons! They’re nesting a few blocks away but they aren’t in my yard anymore even though I didn’t control nesting sites in my neighbors’ chimneys.

    Control the food & the pigeons go away.

  6. Interesting. This post was “before my time” so I missed it in 2008. I think I finally understand the appeal of TBT! 🙂
    but I have a question about your birdfeeding… once you removed the food and the pigeons were gone… were you ever able to feed the songbirds again??

    I’m worried about my mourning dove population… I had 2 when I first started feeding birds a couple years ago.. and it’s now up to 6. Should I anticipate a MODO problem?

    and in pleasant news, during this weekend’s snow a junco stopped by! This is only the 3rd or 4th time one has ever visited my yard so I was thrilled despite the shoveling!

    1. Anne Marie, I only feed the birds when it’s really, really cold &/or there’s snow cover since I don’t want to increase the pigeons and rats/mice population.
      Don’t worry about mourning doves. They congregate in large flocks in winter but they’ll split up in spring. Meanwhile, they’ll attract Coopers hawks. 😉

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