pigeon papers

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lincoln, Nebraska:City Plans Pigeon Relocation; Sept 2005

September 21, 2005
Nebraska:City plans pigeon relocation projectBy DEENA WINTER / Lincoln Journal StarWard Lewis figures that because he's only been "hit" once by thepigeons that hang out almost directly over his workplace, he's faringpretty well.

For eight years, he's worked at the Fringe & Tassel, which is in theshadow of the yawning Harris Overpass that's home to legions ofpigeons that roost, nest and poop on its inviting ledges.

Just east of the costume shop, Judy Roth runs an antique store called Gatherings.

She, too, counts herself lucky when it comes to dodging pigeons:"I've only gotten nailed once on the head," she said of her threeyears in that location.

As the city prepares to replace the aging overpass, it has been askingthe public what the new bridge should look like. Turns out people areas interested in talking about relocating the pigeons as construction timelines and bridge touchdowns.

Linda Beacham of Schemmer Associates, the lead design consultant onthe bridge project, said the pigeon issue has been "huge." In onesurvey, pigeons showed up in four of five comments. People complainthe birds deposit droppings all over buildings, sidewalks, cars and sometimes people.

To alleviate the pigeon problem, Beacham said the city is consideringa bridge designed to relocate the pigeons to the west, over railroadtracks, where they could do less damage.

Doug Lienemann likes that idea. He works one block south of the HarrisOverpass at Midwest Steel Works Inc. and is president of the LincolnHaymarket Development Corporation. He said the Haymarket group fieldsregular complaints about pigeons.

"We're not too wild about the pigeons," he said.

During meetings about the new overpass, he said, "That is one of the first things that always comes up."

Pigeons flourish in the area because they have a steady food supply:spilled grain from rail cars. They particularly like the downtown areabecause the overpass and older buildings provide ledges to roost and nest.

The underbelly of the overpass is a popular hangout for pigeons. The evidence is everywhere: Aside from the pigeons roosting and flying inand out, piers are whitewashed with droppings, nests are tucked intocorners, feathers and droppings litter the parking area below, and thegentle cooing of pigeons is heard overhead.

A study conducted earlier this year by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln wildlife damage management class estimated Lincoln ishome to about 3,000 pigeons, and the number is climbing.

Beacham has consulted "pigeon experts" to help with the bridge design. They cautioned against displacing the birds so quickly they flock to nearby buildings. Instead, they suggest the birds be eased west by making the bottom of the new bridge flat on the east end and replicating their habitat over the tracks by leaving the bridge open,with beams the birds can land on.

U.S. Department of Agriculture State Director John Hobbs, whose agency handles wildlife damage, wonders why the city wouldn't want to displace the pigeons altogether.

Lincoln, he said, has a serious "bird problem."

From the Canada geese that damage golf courses to the prevalence ofEuropean starlings to the airport's worry about "bird strikes,"

Lincoln needs to do something about the birds, he said, or "it'll behorrible in five years."

And not just because they're a nuisance; they carry diseases ranging from encephalitis to salmonella. Pigeon droppings in the Haymarket areparticularly problematic because of the high number of restaurants, Hobbs said.

Pigeons are also a problem at the Lancaster County Jail in Air Park,where they roost on windowsills all along the building. The UNL studysaid steel spikes installed in 1995 were effective until about a yearago. Now parts of the building are washed weekly, and the manager ofthe correctional facility told the UNL researchers that even ifworkers washed the area daily, they still wouldn't be able to "getahead of all the droppings."

The UNL study recommended a two-year program to reduce the pigeonpopulation to less than 1,000 through lethal and nonlethal methods.Part of the plan would involve contracting with the USDA to killpigeons with poison, traps and air rifles.

"Shooting could be conducted at night under bridges, overpasses andother areas where public use is low to minimize observation, concernsand response by the public," the study said. "Shooting activities should be conducted at night beneath the bridge, using a silenced compressed air rifle."

The pigeon population also can be reduced, the study authors said, bydiscouraging people from feeding pigeons; cleaning up spilled grainaround elevators, feed mills and railcar loading areas; cleaning trashfrom streets and sidewalks; and cleaning grain spilled around microbreweries. It also recommended designing "pigeon-proof" buildings.

UNL Professor Scott Hygnstrom, the extension wildlife damage specialist who oversaw the study, said the city needs to take measuresnow or watch the pigeon population triple.

"We're not trying to be ogres about this matter," he said.

After the study was conducted, Hobbs recommended last spring that thecity, county and Natural Resources District split the costs of a full-time wildlife specialist to handle a variety of animal problems,from coyotes to badgers to woodchucks."

They don't really need a full-time pigeon hunter," Hobbs said of Lincoln.

The USDA would have provided matching funds, he said.

The county andNRD were interested, but Hobbs said the city wasn't interested."

It just might have been a little bit off the wall for them," Hobbs said. "I just think it kind of fell through the cracks."

City-county health department Director Bruce Dart said he heard Hobbs'pitch but hasn't seen enough information to justify the position.

Asked whether pigeons are a big problem in Lincoln, he said it dependson how much exposure you have to them. Most people don't have much.

"If I was dealing with pigeon droppings on my car every day, I'dprobably think it was a big deal," he said.

But Ward Lewis and Paul Pearson, who work in the costume shop underthe bridge, said killing pigeons would be taking things too far.

Even though Lewis says "they're huge poopers," he doesn't think they cause that much trouble."

Personally, I get kind of a kick out of them," Pearson said. "I like the pigeons."

Roth, too, is more concerned about how long it takes the city to replace the bridge because it will affect her store.

"I think there will always be pigeons in every city," she said."People complain. They do. But overall they don't hurt anything."

Reach Deena Winter at 473-2642 or dwinter@journalstar.com.