Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Great Redwood City Pigeon Massacre of 2000

Redwood City is home to the Sequoia Station shopping center, with a Safeway grocery store, a bagel shop, 2 or 3 Starbucks, hair cuttery, etc. For some reason, pigeons REALLY like to hang out there. Every once in a while, this leads to news coverage. Take Elock Poon, for example. In 2003 he decided to run over a bunch of pigeons, successfully exterminating 14 of them. For this shameless act of avicide, he faced the possibility of animal cruelty charges.

But my favorite Redwood City pigeon tale is the Great Redwood City Pigeon Massacre of 2000. The pigeons had become such a nuisance that somebody decided something must be done about the 8 metric tons of guano deposited on the roof every year. So, they hired someone to disperse the birds.

The theory is that if you feed a pigeon something that makes it sick, and better yet makes it dance around telling other pigeons "Danger!", it won't return to wherever it was it found the food. So, a contractor was called to dispense some pigeon-nauseating substance, probably Avitrol.

Apparently whenever you use this stuff, some of the birds are going to die. If you wish, I suppose you could use it in such a way that most or all of the birds die. The goal, I suspect, is to either kill the birds where they are or to not kill very many at all.

So up on the roof of the shopping center go the baskets of tasty grain, tempting the birds to come and eat for a week or two. And then, treachery. The grain is replaced with a mixture of regular grain and poisoned grain, and the pigeons eat heartily.

As the first few pigeons start to feel the effects, the others are startled. Soon, many pigeons are freaking out, and the ones who still feel OK decide to get the heck out of there.

Now from Sequoia Station, it's just a short pigeon-hop directly into the downtown area. So it was around mid morning when the workers on the main street in Redwood City started noticing thudding sounds on their roofs. When they heard the sounds of astonishment from passersby on the street, they ventured to the windows to take a look.

Imagine how surprised you would be if it started raining pigeons. Many of the pigeons were dead or dying, but even if they were just sick, an impact with the street from their normal cruising altitude would usually prove fatal. As Less Nessman might say, "My God! The pigeons are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!"

Now the only evidence I can find of this great tragedy are the following chunks of webstranea - a mention of the desire to establish "a policy regarding Avitrol use" in the October 16, 2000 City Council Minutes, and this brief FAQlet from the Avitrol website:
Since there will always be mortality, arrange to pick up dead and dying birds promptly and dispose of them in accordance with local regulations. Failure to do this is the most common cause of public complaint.
Oh, and if you can possibly manage it, convince the birds to fly over the nearby poor Hispanic neighborhood rather than the more upscale downtown. In general, the wealthier the annoyed taxpayer, the more noise the City Council will make.



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