Biologist advocates pigeon birth control to tackle MU’s bird problem

Friday, August 10, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:46 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
A pigeon perched on a railing of Tate Hall, gets ready to take flight to its nest at the bottom of the railing. Tate Hall is one of several buildings on campus that are equipped with pigeon control wiring that doesn't appear to be stopping the pigeons.

Columbia - Scattered throughout the scenic MU campus are a number of stealthily laid electric shock wires, sharp metal spikes and ultrasonic devices emitting earsplitting frequencies. Yet students need not fear; these are just a few of the methods MU currently employs to control the pigeon population and deter the ubiquitous birds from roosting in campus buildings.


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A year ago, MU’s department of Campus Dining was using a chemical called Avitrol to control the birds, and the Central Missouri Humane Society was bombarded with reports of pigeons having seizures, flying erratically and dying. At the time, Julaine Kiehn, director of MU’s Campus Dining Services, said the department had no plans to discontinue the use of Avitrol, but the department has since abandoned any attempts to control the pigeons.

“We would certainly like to have the pigeons be gone and not cause any problems, but right now we’re not doing anything about it,” she said.

Director of Campus Facilities Phil Shocklee said his department now relies only on mechanical means to control the birds. He also added that though Campus Dining used Avitrol as recently as last year, his department has not used the chemical in years.

“We use several methods,” Shocklee said. “The main thing is metal spikes along window ledges.”

Shocklee said MU has also installed screens, small electric wires that emit a mild shock and an ultrasonic device on Jesse Hall that emits a high-pitched sound inaudible to humans to scare the pigeons from roosting there.

Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said that although devices such as the spikes and electric shock wires used by MU are effective, she recommends using an “integrated program” by establishing high-and low-tolerance zones. A high-tolerance zone would be a place like a public park, where congregating pigeons are not a nuisance. A low-tolerance zone would be a campus building where roosting pigeons pose maintenance and health problems. Boyles also advocates the use of an oral birth control for pigeons called OvoControlP, which interferes with their eggs’ hatchability.

OvoControlP, which comes as a ready-to-use bait, was developed by California-based company Innolytics. CEO Erick Wolf said unlike birth control designed for use by people and other mammals, OvoControlP does not act on any hormonal pathways and does not affect the pigeon’s reproductive behavior. Pigeons fed OvoControlP still lay eggs and sit on them, but the eggs simply don’t hatch. Wolf added that OvoControlP’s active ingredient, nicarbazin, is environmentally benign and has no second-degree toxicity, meaning it has no contraceptive effect on anything that might eat the pigeon.

“We thing it’s a good alternative because what’s usually used today is poison and toxicants,” Wolf said. “That’s obviously not the most humane thing to do and is a threat to other birds.”

Wolf said that although results depend on a number of factors, field studies suggest that municipalities using the product can expect up to a 50 percent population reduction in two years.

Executive Director of the Central Missouri Humane Society Patty Forister said she had never heard of the product, but the Humane Society would always choose the most humane method of dealing with a wildlife nuisance.

“We would always choose a humane alternative to poisoning,” she said.

Said Kiehn: “if there is a more effective manner, we’re certainly open to it.”

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Tom Starling August 20, 2007 | 12:10 p.m.

Some of the methods that the University is employing are either ineffective or inefficient. The electrical wiring, for example, requires an external source of energy and regular maintenance, whereas the spikes, which perform the same function, need neither of those things.

I do not support lethal methods, either. The underlying problem in any bird infestation is that the area is attractive to birds. Killing off the current population won't change that, and a new population will quickly take the old one's place. OvoControl presents the same problems: it's only treating the symptoms.

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