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Love your home? Pigeons will, too

Pigeons are the descendants of the wild rock dove that originated among the coastal cliffs of the British Isles, the Mediterranean and India. Europeans introduced them into the Western Hemisphere soon after they began colonizing the area. The birds survived and spread. The Europeans didn't, at least at first. Feral populations now can be found throughout the world.

Pigeons nest and roost almost exclusively these days in manmade structures such as tall buildings and overpasses. In a pinch, they will use hollow trees, cliffs and caves. In South Mississippi, pigeons breed pretty much year round, but most of the nestlings show up during the summer months. The young birds can leave the nest in as little as a month, and one female can produce up to 15 offspring a season. Since a pigeon can live up to 15 years, they can populate a new niche fairly quickly.

Fortunately, pigeons now have a competitor: the Eurasian collared-dove. It likes the same habitat that pigeons prefer and reproduces even more prolifically. Like its cousin, this bird has been domesticated for centuries and has been moved around by man. Some birds were released in the Bahamas in 1974. From there, they quickly spread to Florida, where they flourished. Since then, they've managed to spread across the U.S., reaching the state of Washington in 2000. It's unlikely that the collared dove will displace the pigeon completely. So, we're still going to need to try to keep them from invading our living and working space and taking up permanent residence there.

Pigeons can carry 60 communicable diseases, and each bird leaves behind over 10 kilograms of solid waste per year, so controlling them can be a priority in some situations. One method for controlling pigeons is the old-fashioned scarecrow. You find these items in a lot of stores but, unless you want to keep moving them around, they don't work for very long. A statue of an owl (or a cat or snake) is just that, a statue. It doesn't move and without movement, the birds don't feel threatened. After all, pigeons and statues go hand in hand.

Bird spikes are designed to keep birds from perching on ledges. These can be moderately expensive to place and difficult to maintain. Pigeons tend to collect debris to make their nests and will drop them, bit by bit, on the spikes, building up layers of material that render the spikes useless.

One low-cost, low-tech solution involves netting to keep pigeons from rooftops. It's cheap to purchase but expensive to place and difficult to maintain, and it isn't practical for homeowners (they're cheap-looking, get dirty quickly and don't add to the aesthetics of the home).

Noise makers (and there are a bunch of these) make sounds that startle the birds. Unfortunately, the sounds are more annoying to people than they are to pigeons and, when they do work, it's for only a short period of time. Birds, in general, are more inclined to be affected by sight, smell and touch rather than sounds. No matter how pleasant a bird's song seems, hearing just isn't one of a bird's primary senses. Like teenagers, they hear you but seldom respond like you want them. The noise of an urban street at rush hour is close to the decibels you'll get at a major airport with jets taking off and landing. How many cities do you know where the pigeons have been driven out of town to the quiet countryside?

You could try trapping pigeons, but if you did manage to catch one, what would you do with it? I suppose, if you carried it to Texas, it might not find its way back, but I wouldn't guarantee it. Even professionals admit that trapping is only 20 percent effective.

There are a number of other methods available out there, such as poisoned bait, sprinkler systems, shooting, tangle-foot and gel repellents -- but they all have their drawbacks, and none of them works well enough to get rid of pigeons permanently.

There are, however, three things you can do to reduce the numbers of pigeons infesting your building. First, eliminate their food. Second, eliminate their water source and third, try to eliminate their shelter. If you can't do all three, not much is going to happen. Once a pigeon starts to raise a family, the kids are going to consider the place as their own, and they'll raise their kids there as well.

If none of these methods appeals to you, go and get a falconing license and have a little harmless fun on the weekend participating in the "sport of kings" hunting pigeons.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.

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