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Boulder is for the birds
Killing wild birds puts people at risk
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by Jill Bielawski

When 14-year-old Emily Davis encountered rock doves convulsing and dying on a sidewalk in Boulder last April, she started making phone calls. To her dismay, she found that pigeon poisoning was common and legal. With the help of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, Emily has found that speaking out against cruelty to animals is worth it.

Boulder's ordinance to ban the intentional injuring and killing of wild birds has received widespread support from the community. A few others accuse the council of caring more about birds than people ("Bird brains," In Case You Missed It, Sept. 19), but what they don't realize is that this ordinance will protect the safety of all residents, including humans.

Avitrol, the most commonly used bird poison, is not "LSD for birds," as some careless mainstream media have reported in human interest stories. It is an acutely toxic chemical that attacks and impairs birds' nervous systems. After birds ingest treated grain or kernels, they suffer from seizures and a slow shutdown of bodily functions for up to 60 hours before dying.

Poisons harm non-target species as well. Humans can die or become ill from accidental ingestion of or skin exposure to small doses of Avitrol, as occurred in Las Vegas recently after a little boy brought home a pigeon he'd found. The bird was dying of Avitrol poisoning. Not long after, the family began to show poisoning symptoms, and the boy became very ill. His parents are taking legal action.

According to New York City's Avitrol ban, "Avitrol is too deadly and too blunt an instrument to be used in an urban setting." Yet it has been documented that Avitrol has been spread on at least one parking lot in Boulder, as well as on countless rooftops. The number of birds killed in Boulder is unknown, but one can expect the figure to easily be in the hundreds, and certainly in the thousands over recent years. Many suffering and dying birds are never found, but the public has brought more than 80 poisoned birds from Boulder to the Humane Society and Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Sanctuary this year.

Why do people kill birds? Unfortunately, accumulated bird droppings can create an unsanitary environment and damage property. And although there have been no documented cases of disease in people caused by wild or free-ranging pigeons, some fear that bird droppings will cause human health problems. These concerns are generally inflated as a result of misinformation distributed by "pest control" companies looking for business.

According to the National Institutes of Health, "One could not justify an eradication of pigeons for the sole purpose of protecting people from cryptotococcosis and histoplasmosis." And histoplasmosis is extremely rare in Colorado because it requires moisture to grow. There is also no evidence that a person can contract the West Nile virus from handling live or dead infected birds. Authorities concur that poisons such as Avitrol pose more of a risk to human health than birds do.

Bird populations respond to poisoning with increased birth and survival rates and decreased emigration. If food, water, and shelter remain, the space vacated by the poisoned birds will be taken up by others within a short time. Those who kill birds for profit get invited back forever to cause great suffering to wildlife at humans' risk and expense. The property managers and owners who have traditionally hired exterminators would save money to switch to non-lethal methods that permanently repel birds.

The bird sanctuary ordinance mandates that citizens use only non-injurious bird repellents and exclusion devices to address perceived problems with birds. We need to modify the bird habitat that we humans created and avoid creating pigeon-friendly apartment buildings in the first place.

Humane companies offer products geared to frighten or exclude birds from any area, including trees. Very simple modifications in a building's structure can discourage birds from landing or nesting on the building. Netting, wire coils, spikes, Mylar tape streamers and slanting boards are among many do-it-yourself solutions to evict birds. (Sticky chemical repellents applied to ledges to discourage roosting are touted as humane but can actually kill birds.)

The roosting flock of starlings that created problems for some residents at Mapleton Mobile Home Park has left for the year, and the city will be ready with humane solutions for its return in 2003. Killing these birds would have been opposed by many of the parks' residents and would have proved to be an impractical, logistical nightmare. Most important, killing the birds would not solve the problem.

There are many humane, effective ways to solve human conflicts with birds without causing unnecessary suffering to wildlife and health risks to humans.

Jill Bielawski is the volunteer bird woman for Rocky Mountain Animal Defense. For more information, go to

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