NEW YORK – Put your hands up and back away from the breadcrumbs — feeding the pigeons could be banned in New York City under a lawmaker's proposal to thin the flocks of those birds sometimes described as "rats with wings."
City Councilman Simcha Felder proposed Monday to ban pigeon feeding and impose a $1,000 fine on people who illegally fatten the birds, which he said excrete an average 25 pounds of droppings each year. Felder released a report outlining several other potential solutions to the pigeon problem, an issue that perplexes and plagues cities worldwide.
In London, Mayor Ken Livingstone has banned pigeon feeding in Trafalgar Square, closed down the official feed vendors there, and has sent hawks to infiltrate and scare the lingering pigeons. Los Angeles has begun a trial use of pigeon birth control, and in Basel, Switzerland, pigeon populations have been reduced by an approach that includes stealing their eggs and replacing them with fakes, fooling the birds into thinking they have reproduced.
Felder said New York City should examine these methods, and suggested creating an organized effort that would be led by a Pigeon Czar.
"We have pigeons doing whatever they do all over the city without anyone trying to stop it," Felder said. "If people like pigeons, take them into their homes, feed pigeons in your house and let them crap all over the place in your living rooms."
As Felder spoke outside City Hall, a pigeon with a white tail and coffee-colored wings pecked furiously at the ground nearby.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not endorsed a pigeon feeding ban, but at a separate news conference Monday sounded open to the idea of curbing their food supply.
"We do have a lot of pigeons and they do tend to foul a lot of our areas, and people would be better off not feeding the pigeons," Bloomberg said. "Those that are here will find food and they just wont grow at such a rapid rate and we'd all probably be better off."
Various attempts to shoo pigeons from some parts of the city have had mixed results. Electrifying their roosting areas under elevated subway tracks has had some success, while noise deterrents — using recordings of hawks and other predators — haven't worked as well because New York City pigeons appear to be unfazed by noise.
And a few years ago, a program to use hawks in Bryant Park was scrapped after one of the hired birds attacked a Chihuahua dog.
European settlers first brought pigeons to North America as domesticated birds; the animals that rule New York City are their wild descendants.
Pigeons and their droppings pose more problems than merely being annoying and unsightly.
The ammonia and uric acids in their droppings can turn to salt if not removed properly, and when dried droppings are wet again by rain, the compound can rust steel and corrode infrastructure, Felder's report said.
The buildup of droppings and nest debris can also obscure potential structural problems in bridges and other structures.
Pigeons are often described as being disease-ridden, but the city Health Department does not consider them a major danger, and says the average New Yorker is not at risk of catching anything from pigeons or their droppings.
Reducing their food source is the first and most logical step toward controlling the pigeon population, according to the Pigeon Control Advisory Service. Although the pigeon's natural diet is seeds and grains, urban birds have adapted to eat anything available to them.
Many animal welfare groups support pigeon control because of the theory that overpopulation is unfair and cruel.
Felder plans to introduce the feeding ban legislation within the next few weeks. He says the Sanitation Department would be charged with the authority to ticket feeders, and said the effort should also include eliminating open trash cans to further reduce pigeon food options.