…but two pigeons in the Pitt peregrines’ nest box!
Based on the time stamp on this photo, the pigeons showed up in Dorothy and E2′s nest only 20 minutes after I posted my blog about pigeon overpopulation yesterday.
Do they have ESP? Did they read my blog and decide to make a point? Did they get the feeling they ought to put in a defiant appearance?
Obviously the peregrines weren’t paying attention. They’ve been napping a lot because they’re molting.
Yesterday at lunch my friend Karen and I saw Dorothy and E2 perched in nooks on the edge of the 32nd floor, facing the wall, their backs to the world. I guess if you’re at the top of the food chain you can turn your back to the world with confidence.
No need to worry the peregrines will go hungry. They can have breakfast in bed if they want!
(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at University of Pittsburgh)
Being a peregrine fanatic I’m kind of fond of pigeons – at least from the prey point of view – so when I was in downtown Pittsburgh on Sunday I stopped by Mellon Square to check out the scene.
Even for a peregrine falcon the number of pigeons at Mellon Square is way too much of a good thing. I counted more than 150 and I couldn’t see all of them. The pigeons outnumbered people more than 30 to 1.
This explains why peregrines hang out on the Oliver Building window sills. It’s like visiting an all-you-can-eat restaurant. The food may not be that great but there’s so much of it!
This kind of pigeon over-population repulses most people and they want a quick fix, the quickest being poison. But if you poison a pigeon, you’ll poison a peregrine. After a culling episode pigeons reproduce fast to fill the void – in fact lethal control actually increases the flock - but the peregrines take years to recover. And peregrines are endangered in Pennsylvania. It’s bad, bad, bad to poison an endangered species.
So what to do?
Pigeons need two things to reach the numbers found at Mellon Square: lots of food and places to nest. They reproduce in direct proportion to their food supply. If food is scarce some won’t nest at all. If food is plentiful they lay the next clutch of eggs before the first set has hatched, producing more than 12 chicks per year.
The food problem is obvious. Sidewalks at Mellon Square are coated with bird seed. Control the food source (the people who feed them) and you’ve got most of the problem licked. To make a really dramatic difference, control the nest sites as well.
City pigeons nest on buildings and bridges. They also nest in buildings. Find the buildings involved and spend the time and money to block the access holes. Last summer the University of Pittsburgh cleaned the Cathedral of Learning and blocked off the pigeon nest holes as part of the cleaning job. One year later there are far fewer pigeons at Schenley Plaza.
And finally, there’s a foolproof solution that makes both the pigeon-feeders and the pigeon-haters happy. Many European cities have solved their pigeon problem permanently by building dovecotes and pigeon lofts. Yes, they built nest sites. They control the population at the dovecotes by substituting dummy eggs and they control the food level by giving pigeon lovers an approved place to feed and interact with the birds.
This keeps the pigeons and the birdseed off the street. An elegant solution.
(photo by Chuck Tague)
Pigeons are the peregrines’ favorite food so this snapshot from the Pitt peregrine webcam made me laugh out loud. What the heck is this pigeon doing in the nest of his mortal enemies?
Pigeons nest on cliffs just like peregrines so they’re used to having predators nearby but this is way too close. I’ve never seen a live pigeon in the peregrines’ nest, so what’s up?
I have a theory.
Last year the University of Pittsburgh cleaned the Cathedral of Learning and found pigeon nests in every nook and cranny. When the cleaning was finished they pigeon-proofed the building with netting and spikes. This spring the pigeons have far fewer places to nest so this pair is desperate enough to try the beautiful nest ledge provided for the peregrines.
If you click on the pigeon picture you’ll see a slideshow of the pigeon and his lady checking out the area. They leave abruptly when… Well, you just have to see the slideshow.
For birders, pigeons are on the borderline between wild and tame, pests and pets. They willingly live off our food scraps yet we vaguely feel there’s something wrong with this even though we feed backyard birds.
Now there’s a book that tells us how pigeons got to where they are today and what special traits this has given them. Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird, by Andrew D. Blechman.
The saga began when humans domesticated the rock pigeon over 5,000 years ago. Since then we have widely divergent relationships with these birds: from pigeon fanciers to pigeon shooters, protectors to poisoners, pigeon racers to compulsive pigeon feeders. Blechman’s book delves into it all.
He also describes how:
• Pigeons are naturally even tempered. They do not bite or attack. This made them easy to domesticate and it’s why them seem tame.
• Racing pigeons fly non-stop more than 500 miles at more than 60 miles per hour. This is even more amazing when you consider they are trucked to the starting point – a place they have never seen – and within minutes they figure out where they are and where home is. Then they fly home immediately without stopping for food or water.
• Pigeon hating is a relatively new sentiment, promoted by “bird control companies.” For instance, if you use Google to search for this book online, the advertising links are all pigeon control companies.
• A 100% guaranteed, permanent pigeon control method was invented in Europe and, amazingly, involves providing them with nests.
After you read this book you won’t think the same old way about pigeons any more.
It snowed here all day until sunset. By lunchtime there was more than an inch of snow. Over at Pitt the only birds I saw were pigeons and they were doing something unusual. They were foraging on the sidewalk instead of on the grass.
I pay attention to pigeons because they are the peregrines’ favorite food. A scared flock of pigeons often alerts me to the presence of the peregrines. Today it was apparently too snowy for the falcons to hunt so the pigeons were safe out in the open.
But why were they on the sidewalk? It finally dawned on me. The sidewalk was the only snow-free area where they could see potential food. Perhaps they were eating the de-icing salt.
The snow was beautiful, but it’s a pretty quiet birding day when the best bird is a pigeon eating rock salt.