Posts Tagged ‘Pigeons’

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.

A Bump on a Pole

January 24, 2010

The presence of pigeons  indicates a metropolitan area. Pigeons follow human congestion. That is not altogether a bad thing. If you don’t believe me, look at the little bump on the left side of the power pole in this photo. The bump is a bird that would not be there if it were not for the pigeons.

The bump eats pigeons for a living.

We humans tried hard to kill that bump on the power pole. We sprayed DDT on everything we could think of and the DDT almost wiped out the bump and its entire species.

The bump is a magnificent bird and the fastest animal on the planet. And, because it is such a magnificent bird, we stopped spraying DDT, in part, just to save it. What is more, we do it a big favor by living in cities, because the pigeons live with us and provide a rich diet for the bird.

Here is a close up.

Peregrine Falcons miss nothing within the range of their vision. In this photo, it is deciding whether I am friend or foe or food.

Even in our cities, we are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature.

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.

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.



September 2, 2008

Last week we wrote about a debate in Scotland between pigeon (Rock Dove) fanciers and about everybody else regarding whether to spend several hundred thousand pounds to remove Sparrowhawks from about 40 pigeon lofts; Sunday , the New York Times reviewed a brand new book about pigeons and what humans have done to that species.

We haven’t read the book yet but thought we should share the review with you.  Pigeons, the Superdove of the book’s title, may have been the first domesticated bird in history, about 5000 years ago in the Middle East.  Nonetheless, humans have thought of the birds primarily, as do Sparrowhawks to this day, as food.  Secondarily, humans have thought of pigeons, as do Sparrowhawks, as entertainment.  Captive pigeons were bred for food, racing, and show.  Courtney Humphries, the book’s author, writes, “. . . in exchange for food and shelter, the pigeons give complete genetic control to their owners.”

However, most pigeons said, “No thanks” and escaped to the wilderness of human cities.  Pigeon populations can quintuple in a year and often do when conditions are right.  About all they need is a great many humans living close to one another.  (As I write this, several genetically adapted pigeons are feeding underneath bird feeders in our backyard.) People, “are forces of nature.  We create and destroy habitat, we shape genomes, we aid the worldwide movement of other species.”

And pigeon fanciers apparently do not lack passion.  Here is one at a meeting in South Brooklyn during a debate on the morality of feeding them.  “They’ve got two babies coming every four weeks.  There’s too many babies for them to feed, and it keeps them in poverty, a cycle of poverty!”

We don’t make this stuff up.

Pigeon Power Napping

July 21, 2008

Working in a nap can be difficult for birds as well as humans. And naps are important. Even a six minute nap improves a human’s memory. Pigeons need naps too but often miss them. A pigeon can’t take a power nap if there is a predator in the area. But they take naps, as do many other birds and mammals. In nature, napping is normal. In fact, it is the norm everywhere except modern industrialized clusters of humans. And, as we discussed recently, the sleep of birds resembles that of mammals even to the extent of dreaming.

Max Planck Institute Photo of Pigeon Napping

Max Planck Institute Photo of Pigeon Napping

What we call “deep sleep” is that phase of sleeping known as slow wave sleep (SWS) in which neurons oscillate in long and slow waves. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is not as deep and it is when dreams happen. More REM occurs at the end of the sleep cycle and more SWS at the beginning.

Scientists will do all sorts of things to experimental subjects, including keeping pigeons awake when they want to be napping. In a recent study at the Max Plank Institute of Ornithology they deprived pigeons of their usual late afternoon naps to see if they made up for it at night. Making up for lost sleep involves spending more time in SWS and even longer and slower wave patterns.

Just as in mammals, the scientists discovered that sleep deprived pigeons make up for the daytime sleep loss by sleeping more deeply at night. Mammals and birds, with entirely different brain structures, seem to regulate sleep in the same way.

Just more evidence that having a large cortex may not be as big a deal as we thought. To put it in the more elegant words of a nuclear physicist,

There is separation in Life but
there is no separateness.
We are all connected.
– David Bohm


The full citation for the article reporting on pigeon napping:
Dolores Martinez-Gonzalez, John A. Lesku and Niels C. Rattenborg
Increased EEG spectral power density during sleep following short-term deprivation in pigeons (Columba livia): evidence for avian sleep homeostasis.
Journal of Sleep Research (2008), Online Early Articles, February 27, 2008

Here is an abstract of the article.

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