Archive for the ‘Pigeons’ Category

Albuquerque’s Anti-Pigeon Poop Ordinance

March 22, 2011


Evil Rock Dove - Photo courtesy of Alan D. Wilson

Many local readers have asked us what they can do about the proposed Albuquerque ordinance that would criminalize feeding pigeons, even inadvertently. The latest update is that the City Council did not vote on the issue at their last meeting. That means there is still time for citizens to weigh in on the issue. We’ve prepared a proposed letter. Please feel free to either copy it or use it as a jumping off place for your own letter to your councilor. Remember that politicians get a lot of angry, impolite mail and email about all kinds of issues. The way to persuade them is to address them politely and with respect.(Although we don’t mind if you attach a copy of our last blog post to your letter. No harm in pointing out the silliness of the ordinance.)


If local residents are not certain how to reach their councilor, here is the website that tells you.

And for all of you who don’t live here, feel free to weigh in too. Democracy works best when our elected representatives are well-informed.


In re: Anti-Pigeon Feeding Ordinance 0-11-37

Dear City Councilor:

I write to express my opposition to proposed Ordinance O-11-37 (the anti-pigeon feeding ordinance) being considered by the Albuquerque City Council.

I  am one of millions of people in the United States and many, many thousands in Albuquerque who enjoys feeding backyard birds.  Not only is it a great joy and pastime, it benefits the wild birds as well.

I have read the proposed ordinance and as written, I would technically violate it every time I fill my feeders. I don’t intend to feed pigeons, but they fly into my yard and clean up the seed that falls to the ground beneath my feeders.

Besides, what actual data, as opposed to anecdotes from one city employee, exist proving that pigeons are such a problem that the City should be using scarce public funds to pay people to count pigeon poop and run after innocent citizens because of anonymous and secret complaints from other citizens? What data do you rely upon establishing that pigeon poop is a serious contaminate of a river over which millions of birds other than pigeons fly each year? How does the amount of pigeon poop in the river compare with the amount of feral cat poop in the river? What shall we do about all the ducks and geese that spend their nights on the river? How many people become ill each year as a result of pigeons? The local news media has failed to share with the public all this data. Unless such data exists, I object to spending public funds, especially during these troubled economic times, on pigeons.

It is my understanding that pigeons populate every big city and the real reason we have an abundance of pigeons in Albuquerque is because we have an abundance of people. If you build a city they will come, as they have since the dawn of cities.

As your constituent, I ask that you vote against the proposed ordinance and use your valuable time in more worthwhile endeavors.

Thank you for considering my views on this matter.

Pigeon Poop Menace

February 27, 2011

As the people of North Africa and the Middle East are reminding us right now, democracy is worth dying for. Just think of the immense physical and moral courage the Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and Bahraini protesters carry with them as they walk into their streets to demand a say in their own government.

But, I have to report, democracy is no more immune from silliness than any other form of government. Exhibit A is the war on pigeons the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico is about to launch.

Pigeon Infested Rio Grande

Stop for a moment and join me in contemplating a person whose job it is to go around counting pigeon poops. How infinitely satisfying such a job must be, how joyous each morning, bringing forth another chance to count pigeon poop.  Imagine the thrilling conversations at dinner after the completion of another day enriching humanity through unstinting effort. Albuquerque has such an employee.

But, to return to the silliness. Some pigeon poop, you see, reaches the Rio Grande, “The Great River” which has given life to humans along its banks for centuries. We’ve written about this menace before. Apparently the city fathers back then paid attention but, as a result of the workings of democracy, we some new ones now so, once again, we are compelled to spring to the defense of science and actual data, and not wild surmise.

Let’s start with the river. The late-winter flow of the river today, according to the USGS is about 600 cubic feet per second. That’s about 45,000 gallons a second or about 387,000 gallons day. And, of course, late winter is a low flow time for the river. The snow pack that feeds the Rio Grande has not yet begun to melt. A flow ten times that of today will come along in a few weeks. (Depending on the up-stream dams. The Rio Grande stopped being a free river decades ago.) The city health poobahs have not told us how many pigeons poop in the river every day or how much they poop in the river or how much of their poop even reaches the river. Apparently some does during what these health officials call “a precipitation event.” In other words, when there is a rain storm some of the poop washes downhill and makes it to the river.

Local Polluter

Which will be flowing at a higher rate than it normally does since the “precipitation” of the “precipitation event” presumably also falls into the river and collects all over the drainage and flows downhill into the river. The river, by the way, flows south of Albuquerque to Texas and any self-respecting New Mexican is glad at the thought that our pigeon poop ends up in Texas.

We point out these realities not to cast doubt on the proposed law, you understand. After all, the city fathers, in their wisdom and without any data, conclude that the city has a pigeon overpopulation caused by humans. As we’ll see, they do have a point.

Nor do I dwell on the millions of gallons of water from the river used each day by the gigantic Intel printed circuit board factory because Intel assures us that none of the carcinogenic, poisonous chemicals used to make PCB’s ever gets into the river and I believe everything big corporations say. That is why the city health people aren’t worried about that pollution and are free to worry about pigeon pollution.

Not a Polluter

And I will not bring up Sandia National Labs or Kirtland Air Force Base or the nuclear weapon storage facilities all of which drain into the river. Those pose no pollution threat to the river and explains why the pigeon counter goes about his work unworried about radioactivity in the river.

And it would be ungenerous to bring up the arsenic. The arsenic in the drinking water. The arsenic that exceeded federal levels in several of the city’s wells. The arsenic that the city spread out to all of its wells by pumping that water all over the city to lower the average of each well. The arsenic everyone here drinks everyday.

Nor should we bother the city health people with all the hydrocarbons from cars washed off city streets into the river during “precipitation events.” That would worry them since Albuquerque has no meaningful public transportation. That would interfere with all the cars.

Nor will we bring up the tens of thousands of geese, ducks, and cranes that make their winter homes here. Geese after all, produce very little poop. Why a single goose couldn’t possibly produce as much waste as a pigeon. And we shouldn’t talk about the millions of song birds who live here. I guess none of their waste reaches the river?

The city proposes to rid us of this pigeon poop menace by enacting a law which says – and I am not making this up –

(A) It is a violation of this ordinance for any person to feed, offer food to, or through negligence allow the feeding of feral pigeons on any public or private property within Albuquerque City limits.

(B) It is a violation of this ordinance for any person to permit or allow the placement or discard of food, food by-products, vegetables, garbage or animal food of any kind in a manner that results in the lingering, roosting and/or congregating of feral pigeons.

The fine for violations? $50.00 a day for each and every violation. And the mayor or his representative may come onto a person’s property without a warrant to count pigeon poop. We assume the mayor himself won’t be traveling around without a warrant counting pigeon poop but the ordinance empowers him to do just that.

We’ll pause again and contemplate the glory of democracy. Pigeon poop. Had they known, the Egyptians might well have just gone home and let Mubarak keep his day job.

Old Town Pigeon Undeterred by Fake Owls

Pigeons are syanthropes, animals that live near and benefit from human habitations. As we have said many times before, if you build a city, they will come. The only way to get rid of the pigeons is to get rid of the people. Shut the city down and make everybody move away. Since the dawn of history pigeons have followed humans into their cities.

Here, on TV, is the city official responsible for counting the pigeon poop explaining that pigeons are an invasive species in the middle Rio Grande Valley. True enough. So are cats. Cat poop reaches the river. Are we to outlaw feeding cats? House sparrows are invasive. What shall we do about them? So are the Chinese Elm trees. Nobody is out chain-sawing them.

For that matter, people are an invasive species here, having arrived only a short time ago. What shall we do about them? Science demonstrates conclusively that they are the reason for the pigeons.

Artistic Pigeon

August 30, 2010

Artistic Pigeon

We have, from time to time, leapt to the defense of the lowly pigeon. Messengers in war, food in war, lovers of cities – these birds have a close affinity to their distant cousins, humans.

This one, for instance, is a lover of fine art. Accordingly, it chooses to live at the Chicago Art Institute. It is itself an artist. Notice this bird’s use of color.   Red legs, orange eyes, juxtaposition of white and brown feathers, its brilliant choice of green and blue for its background, and its acute sense of composition. (Click on the photo for a larger version.) We found it in the courtyard, next to the pond with the male mermaids who are a little too “R” rated for us to post a photo of them.

Chicago doesn’t want us to feed the pigeons and  politely posts signs around the city asking us not to feed them, but I suspect many humans ignore the request. Otherwise, the pigeons wouldn’t live there in such numbers.  Or put up with the EL trains rumbling overhead, as this one does.

EL Pigeon

When it comes to a city: If you build it, they will come.


We’d like to thank our loyal readers for sticking with us this summer. Posts have been few, but we’re back on track now. Even this particular post had to wait because WordPress decided it “had a problem” with some of our content. That was a mystery. This is a blog about birds and birders for goodness sake. We don’t do porn, we don’t do politics, we don’t even do windows.  But they fixed the problem and we appreciate it. WordPress is one of the wonders of the modern world.

Pigeon Poop

May 29, 2009

According to our local news media, the leading cause of pollution in our local river is — wait for it — pigeon droppings.  Really.  We don’t make stuff up here at the Fat Finch.  At least two of our local media outlets, a newspaper and a television station, have carried the story this week.

Startled Pigeons at our Feeders

Startled Pigeons at our Feeders


Pigeon droppings.  They interviewed a man from the local flood control bureaucracy. He solemnly assured the reporters that pigeons are the leading polluters of our river. He says — and this is a direct quote — “It’s a problem only you can imagine.”  Not us.

Because they failed to ask him about his qualifications, we are unable to share those with you but surely he knew what he was talking about?  He was on TV, wasn’t he?

rio_grande_river_Albuquerque_NM_IMG_8549webAnd that is just one of the many questions our local media failed to ask him. Here are a few others that sprung to our non-scientific minds.

1.  How much water flows past any given point on our local river?

2.  How many pigeons live here?

3.  How much waste do they produce?

4.  How much of that waste actually reaches the river?

5.  Why doesn’t the river just wash it away?

6.  What is in that waste and why is it so bad?

7.  What about all the other birds?  Don’t they poop in the river too?

These waters are too deep for us, that’s for sure.

Our ground water here contains high levels of arsenic, but what is a little arsenic when there are pigeons on the loose?  We have nuclear facilities both upstream and downstream from us.  And a printed circuit board facility that funnels hundreds of thousands of gallons a water through its facility every hour.  But never mind.  Those pigeons are poisoning our water.

No wait.  The pigeons aren’t poisoning the people; they’re poisoning the wildlife that drink directly from the river.  Which raises some other questions to the skeptical mind.  For instance, if all this wildlife is getting poisoned, why aren’t we finding dead wildlife all over the place?

We want to emphasize that the pigeons that live in our backyard and clean up the seeds the song birds drop from the feeders are not guilty.  They don’t fly off to the river every time they need to poop.  They do it right where they are.

Yes.  It's what you think it is.

Yes. It's what you think it is.

But ours not to reason why. Clearly we must take immediate action to protect the river.  Of course, as we’ve noted here before, pigeons congregate where people congregate. The only way to get rid of the pigeons is to forcibly relocate all the people.  The children of the local media forgot to mention that in the news story.  Or all the other cities in all the world with rivers flowing through them.  Like Paris.

And why is it that local television media across the country consists of children just out of Journalism Kindergarten?  Wouldn’t it be better to have older, more mature journalists?  And another thing.  At Journalism Kindergarten, these children are taught to wildly gesticulate with their hands when reporting from the scene.  In the story of the pigeon menace, the young man at the scene stood manfully with legs apart, arms bent 90̊ at the elbow, palm facing palm, sharply moving both up and down emphatically.  They do that all the time, without discrimination.  It doesn’t matter whether they are announcing the latest local tragedy or the little league soccer scores.  Shouldn’t they save hyperbolic gestures for when they really need them?

Like when covering the pigeon menace?

Apparently they couldn’t get any decent footage of one of these evil pigeons; instead, they showed us an innocent Redwing Blackbird singing its little heart out.  And a Mallard duck.

Really.  We don’t make this stuff up.

“Good night, Chet.”

“Good night, David.”

We’ve defended pigeons before.

Pigeons at Your Bird Feeders – 4 Things to Do

January 4, 2009


If you build it, they will come.

By “it” we mean a bird feeding station.  By “they” we mean pigeons.  Rock Pigeons to be precise. “Rats with wings” according to Woody Allen and the prosecutors.

Feral pigeons are synanthropic, a big word meaning that pigeons follow humans around like thunder follows lightning.  If you live in a town or city, you can’t get rid of them, but you can learn to live with them.

Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Buy bird feeders designed to defeat squirrels.  Like squirrels, pigeons are heavier than the song birds that visit your feeders.  Some bird feeders have spring-loaded perches that tilt downward if anything heavier than a song bird lands on one. The pigeon or the squirrel slides off the perch.  Sometimes.  We have seen pigeons and White-wing Doves hang on by flapping their wings but they soon tire of that.

2. Another kind of feeder shuts the feeding ports when a heavier bird or a squirrel lands on the feeder. Here is a photo.  It too operates with springs.


3.  Here is a handy little feeder that defeats pigeons every time.  Called “The Clinger,” the ledge is too close to the body of the feeder for a pigeon to get a grip.

4.  Pigeons are ground feeders, designed by Mother Nature to hunt and peck.  As you can see from the photo at the top, taken in our backyard, pigeons prefer to clean up the seed dropped from the feeders by the song birds. Pigeons don’t like eating directly from your feeders anymore than you like them doing it.  They would prefer to be on the ground.

And, as you can tell from the photo, allowing the pigeons to do janitorial work enables the song birds to eat even while the pigeons are feeding, thus eliminating the common problem of pigeons scaring away desirable backyard birds.

We’ll be back soon to mount a defense on behalf of these much maligned birds. In the meantime, we hope these suggestions will keep them off your feeders and on the ground where they belong.


Unsurprisingly, we sell these feeders at our store.

The Pigeons of War

December 27, 2008
Homing Pigeon

Homing Pigeon

The holidays brought with them a case of writer’s cramp; the junior version of writers’ block.  For a sufferer of writers’ block an empty page or a blank screen causes terror. For a sufferer of writers’ cramp that blankness merely mesmerizes. It is, I suppose, something akin to the torpor of hibernation.

By the way, the only bird known to hibernate is the Common Poorwill.  More on that another time.  We’re on a roll here and must not be distracted.

While we wrestled with the Cramp, the earth kept turning, the solstice passed, people shopped, the birds kept eating, and people complained about the pigeons at their bird feeders.

The time also brought the sad news of the death of Richard Topus,  one of the last pigeon trainers who served in the Army during World War II; presumably but not certainly, the last war in which homing pigeons were used to send messages across battlefields, a practice that began at least as early as the ancient Persian military and probably before, war being one of mankind’s most ancient practices.  Genghis Khan employed them.  Britain first learned the news of the great victory at Waterloo from a carrier pigeon.

Richard Topus in World War II

Richard Topus in World War II

Pigeoneers, as people like Mr. Topus were called, served in the United States Army Pigeon Service.  Many were from Brooklyn where the sport of pigeon racing was popular.  Mr. Topus began training and racing the birds as a young boy in Brooklyn. Two of the men who took Mr. Topus under their wings when he was young had been pigeoneers in World War I, when the use of pigeons was far more widespread than in World War II.  Mr. Topus volunteered for service in 1942.

Even with the advances of radio communication by 1942, radio signals remained interceptible and the radios sending them could be found quickly.  The need for pigeons was not gone when Mr. Topus signed on.  More than 50,000 pigeons were enlisted by the United States alone.  The Maidenform Bra company made paratrooper vests with special pockets for pigeons.  Pigeons as well as paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines.

Homing pigeons are simply well-trained Rock Pigeons or, as they were officially named until recently, Rock Doves.   Rock Pigeons can fly for hours at about 30 mph and can get up to 60 mph for short distances. They mate for life and breed freely in and around human habitations. Most likely they are the ones trying to eat from your bird feeders.  You may have seen them at weddings and funerals as well.

Because Rock Pigeons are smart, they can find their way home over vast distances. They can even find their home roost when that roost has been moved during their absence, as frequently happened in World War II when battle fronts were more fluid than the static trench warfare of World War I.  Encoded messages on light weight paper, inserted into small capsules on the legs of their birds often helped battlefield commanders during the war.

Mobile Pigeon Loft from WWI

Mobile Pigeon Loft from WWI

But every military advance is soon met with a counter-measure.  Someone invents an arrow and someone else invents a shield.  Invent radar and someone will think of dropping aluminum foil to confuse it.  To combat the Allied pigeons — the Germans had their own messenger pigeons — the Germans enlisted falcons. Falcons love pigeons to death. After the Germans deployed falcons, the British countered with their own falcons, thinking to destroy German messenger pigeons.

This didn’t work out too well.  Falcons do not discriminate against pigeons: they will eat any pigeon without regard to race, gender or nationality.  Soon both sides stopped deploying falcons.

People are not the only sentient beings to suffer during war.  Animals are killed and wounded as well.  Pigeons are used not only in battle where they are killed and wounded just like soldiers, they are also eaten by people whose food supplies run low.  (The pigeons, not the soldiers.  Writers with the Cramp sometimes leave ambiguous antecedents stumbling along behind them.)  For more information about the effects of war on birds see our post about the Paris pigeons of World War II, written when we were not under the baleful influence of writers’ cramp.

187 years ago today Charles Darwin left England onboard the HMS Beagle on a five-year trip which took him to the Galapagos Islands and other places.  Twenty-seven years would pass before he had the courage to publish what he learned and thought about on that trip. That is a world class case of writers’ block.

Parisian Pigeons

October 20, 2008
Rue de Rivoli, Paris sometime between 1940-44 by Andre Zucca

Rue de Rivoli, Paris sometime between 1940-44 by Andre Zucca

During the German occupation of Paris in World War II the food supply steadily dwindled.  As the war dragged on and Germany began to run out of food, the occupiers thought nothing of stealing French food and sending it home to Germany.  Rationing in Paris was severe.

A.J. Liebling, the New Yorker’s war correspondent, was a Francophile.  He loved France, he loved french food — which, eventually killed him because he ate so much of it — and he loved Paris.  He was in Paris in 1940 and stayed as long as could, leaving only a matter of hours before the German Army arrived.  He returned to Paris with the Daydaybay (the French 2nd Armored Division) only a matter of hours after the Germans left in 1944.

Liebling had been living in the Hotel Louvois in Paris prior to his hurried 1940 departure and he returned there the day after the Liberation.  The Hotel looked out on the Square Louvois, a small park which before the war contained 14 trees and innumerable pigeons.   Liebling was delighted to find the hotel still in business after the Occupation.  When he got there one of the first things he did was count the trees; fourteen still stood.  Writing years later he remembered, “The pigeons, of course, were gone but I can’t say at that moment I really missed them.”

The pigeons were gone because, during the rationing, Parisians ate pretty much whatever they could get their hands on.  That included the city’s large population of pigeons. By August, 1944, none were left.

Hotel Louvois

Hotel Louvois

Liebling was again at the Hotel Louvois in the mid-1950s, writing Normandy Revisited, his memoir of the war years.  Here is what he had to say about the pigeons then,

Pigeons roost in the trees of the Square Louvois; even when the temperature is near zero, they seem none the worse for it, and no less amorous.  The pigeons are collateral descendants of those I used to see there in 1940, the latter having been eaten during the Occupation.  (The same people who treacherously devoured those birds now try to make it up to their successors by feeding them crumbs of croissants left over from breakfast.)  “My God, those pigeons were tough!” says Fernand, the old night porter. “Real Athletes! And with the rationing, we were hardly strong enough to chew them.”

But times change and what was once yesterday’s necessity becomes today’s luxury; we learn from Maureen Dowd that the discredited, disgraced executives of AIG — after we taxpayers bailed them out — traveled, in a private jet costing $17,500, to a partridge hunt at a British country manor where they paid another $17,500 on the food and rooms.  The food included pigeon breast.


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