Federal wildlife technicians wage war on city pigeons

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Federal wildlife officials for years have waged a war to rid the city of pigeons.

Since the mid 1990s, technicians from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services agency have trapped and killed 1,000 to 1,200 pigeons each year at 30 to 45 Anchorage locations. Their efforts included finding a concealed roost in a blocked off alley that contained at least 270 birds and feces nearly six inches deep.

When trapping hasn't worked, USDA sharpshooters have stalked pigeons with air rifles.

By the winter of 1997 to 1998, the largest flocks had been removed from downtown Anchorage but an estimated 2,500 pigeons continue to foul buildings and walkways.

While the situation has improved in the downtown, pigeons now are setting up house in other areas of town, said Corey Rossi, director of the Wildlife Service's operations in Alaska.

''Now we're picking up calls in places where we've never seen pigeons before,'' said federal animal control specialist Brian Nichols.

Birds have been roosting in highway overpasses up the Glenn Highway and Minnesota Boulevard. They have been infesting a few Tudor Road area apartment buildings by crawling into heating exhaust vents. They even were found building nests in a south Anchorage home.

Dense flocks will produce tons of acidic excrement, which can corrode facilities. Pigeon guano also has the potential to spread several diseases, including a potentially fatal inflammation of the lungs called psittacosis.

Decades ago there was just a small flock that hung around the old Woolworth building on Fourth Avenue in the downtown. By the 1990s, the flocks had taken over dozens of buildings.

The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts on Sixth Avenue estimates it was spending an extra $8,000 to $10,000 a year cleaning up after the pigeons that were attracted to the building's nooks and ledges.

Center officials got in touch with Wildlife Services in Palmer. The agency tries non-lethal methods first, such as habitat modification or scare tactics. The best tactic against pigeons involves stalking the birds to roosts, trapping as many as possible, and closing off access, Rossi said. Captured birds are killed. Clients pay nearly all the costs of pigeon eradication.

He said the agency currently has traps at about 30 locations in Anchorage, and the birds are spreading out.

''In one sense it's job security for us,'' Rossi said. ''In another sense, it's kind of a disaster if you're ever thinking of getting on top of them.''

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