ONTARIO — Alfred Hitchcock references aside, birds are normally a welcome sight. In at least one area of Ontario, however, the sentiment is much different. Flocks of pigeons have made their home in and around several local businesses in the downtown area bringing about complaints before the Ontario City Council.
“I do get the pigeons, but what are you gonna do?” This is what Chayo Machuca, a representative from Graphixwear, said as she explained how she often sees several of them roosting on the Eldridge sign across the street.
Speaking with David Eldridge, owner and operator of Eldridge Furniture, about the pigeons taking residence around the building, he said his business doesn’t have as many of the birds as they used to and most have moved down the block a couple of years ago.
“They do put droppings on everything,” Eldridge said.
Farther down the block at Old School Hand Blown Glass, the pigeons have staked their claim. Employee Cristina Flores described how every morning the entrance to the shop is covered with pigeon feathers and requires a leaf-blower to remove. Despite having plastic owl decoys perched atop the storefront’s marquee, the pigeons have remained.
During a phone interview, the shop’s general manager Sarah Lenhart concurred with Flores about having to clean the sidewalk at least once a day to ensure customers aren’t tracking feathers into the shop.
“They’ve multiplied a lot lately,” she said.
Lenhart told how the pigeon issues have gotten worse in the last two years and how at one point several birds had somehow gained access to the space above the main sales floor.
“You could hear their little feet scratching,” she pointed out.
Lenhart asked whether the city could “do a pigeon relocation program?”
Among the ideas generated by the City Council during its recent work session Aug. 8, was relocating the birds. Councilman Freddy Rodriguez said why he did not believe this solution to be a viable one. He said pigeons stay where they consider their home to be, startling them won’t work, relocating them won’t work.
To share some further insight into this issue, supervising Wildlife Biologist Philip Milburn of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ontario field office said that many pigeons do return to where they believe their homes to be. Some of which are escaped domestic animals and some have been used for “pigeon-racing,” a practice where bird owners take their pigeons miles away and compete with one another to see whose bird will return first. Milburn explained that animals returning to their habitat is not an unusual occurrence and recounted instances he has been familiar with where bears have been relocated approximately 50 miles away from a campground only to return to the same spot.
Milburn agrees that startling the pigeons or relocating them is not an option that will provide a permanent solution. He said a tactic called “exclusion” is one of the most practical options. Exclusion is where any available opening into a roof or structure is closed off and no entry is allowed, this can often discourage pigeons from nesting in those areas.
Councilman Marty Justus brought up the notion of pigeon birth control put in feeders, saying that this tactic had been tried before in other cities with some success. He also suggested that the Ontario Chamber of Commerce partially fund this project as it relates directly to downtown area businesses.
When asked about the feasibility of using birth control measures to control the pigeon population, Milburn said he had never heard of such an action being taken. He did say that pigeons are an unprotected species, which does leave some amount of leeway with people catching the birds. However, the birds must be dealt with humanely, according to state laws. The Oregon Humane Society has outlined these laws in its publication, Oregon Animal Cruelty Laws Handbook. Among these laws it is considered animal abuse to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” perform an action that “causes serious or physical injury to an animal or cruelly causes the death of an animal.” This is the definition of animal abuse in the first degree.
Taking a unique turn from the humane options being offered, Council President Dan Capron stated, “Off with their heads!” then he asked, “Why does everything have to be humane?”
To this, Justus responded that being inhumane would invite controversy to the council and their actions, however, being humane sets the standard.
Capron then said that perhaps the downtown businesses can work together to bring about a solution to this problem. Discussion on this topic was then tabled without a permanent decision on how to proceed, but will be revisited in a future meeting.