Looking around the Green this month, it’s fair to say that it’s not at its best. The bedding is tired and flattened by the rain in places. The grass is waterlogged. But there are signs of life, such as the small, tight buds in the trees and the bright green fingertips of daffodils peeping just above ground. There aren’t many walkers or dogs or children out and about, but there are, as always, lots of pigeons, pecking over two large piles of food waste, which have been lovingly left out for them.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I dislike pigeons: the endless cooing, the complacent fatness, the pooh, the flocks’ sudden movement with the accompanying spray of dirty feathers and dust, or the way pigeons scare off other, smaller, less numerous garden birds. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t advocate killing them; I just wish there weren’t so many of them. I wish they’d shove off and live somewhere else. I do recognise that they get a worse press than they deserve: they are not, in fact, dirtier than any other wild animal, and we are very unlikely to catch a nasty disease from them, any more than we would from a pet dog or cat. And in a way, one has to admire pigeons’ adaptability. They can live anywhere, on almost anything. Let’s face it, it’s that very adaptability which means that pigeons are never, EVER going to go away completely. Our buildings make great, predator-free roosts for them, and our streets are full of pigeon-friendly tidbits. But we can decrease the pigeon population, and one of the simplest ways is to stop feeding them on the Green.
I really don’t understand the mentality of the pigeon feeders. Do they buy too many loaves and then fail to work out what to do with the leftovers? Are they so lacking in human interaction that they need the solace of pigeon society? They certainly couldn’t be said to be bird lovers, as no one can possibly think that a pigeon benefits from a diet of chips. And that seems to be one of the two pigeon feeder staples. It’s either chips or very finely powdered breadcrumbs. Have you noticed how the crumbs are completely uniform in size and colour, easy on even the pickiest beak, I would imagine? It’s almost as if our local pigeon protectors prepare their avian offerings in a food processor! Even such lovingly prepared meals are often too much for them, as there’s always some residue left when they move on, ready for the rats and mice to take over. The pigeon population expands with the amount of food available, causing overcrowding in the roosts and disease in the young birds. All in all, it’s bad to feed pigeons.
Some pigeon feeders are stealthy and hence difficult to catch (naming and shaming is, unfortunately, an unlikely solution to the problem), while some are simply stubborn and set in their ways, so what can be done to stop them? Some towns in the UK have implemented public education campaigns with leaflets to explain the cons of pigeon feeding. Others have chosen more expensive, large-scale schemes of establishing designated pigeon roosts and feeding stations, to attract the birds to a single location, and the eggs are then collected before they hatch, thus limiting the population (if food supplies allow, pigeons can produce nine broods, or 18 eggs, a year). And then, of course, there’s the strategy introduced in 2003 by the then-mayor Ken Livingstone, which made pigeon feeding illegal, combined with a daily sparrowhawk patrol to scare the birds away. This strategy appears to have worked, but at an ongoing cost of around £60,000 a year for the sparrowhawk (according to the Daily Mail in 2009). Hmm, not sure that the Friends of Fortune Green subs could stretch to that.
Would anyone like to write in with an alternative suggestion? In the meantime, perhaps the only thing to do is to clear up the chips and crumbs as best we can if and when we see them, and tackle the feckless feeders if we meet them. Perhaps they just don’t understand the consequences of their actions? And perhaps, if we explain, they might just put their leftovers in the bin next time.
Scene on the