Monday, June 28, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Pigeon contraceptionClark County is hoping to curtail the thriving Las Vegas pigeon population, estimated at 750,000, using a birth control drug. For it to work, birds need to ingest the drug every day. The manufacturer of the drug, which is deemed humane by activists, says it will reduce the population 53 percent in a year.
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Beyond the Sun
Birth control pills are often hailed as a key to the women’s liberation movement. Now, county parks workers are hoping the same approach will free them from constantly cleaning up after pigeons.
They complain the birds’ daily defecations have gotten way out of control at the parks — on benches, playground equipment, signs, sidewalks, park users’ cars, picnickers.
The theory is that Southern Nevada has a worse pigeon problem these days than most other places because its climate allows them to breed year-round and because the thousands of foreclosed homes in the valley have become roosting sites.
“When the homes are vacant and quiet, it’s the perfect setting for nesting,” says Michael Gardner, who has been in the pigeon control business since founding Pigeons Be Gone in 1998.
The county is going into the pigeon control business in the coming weeks — by feeding the birds a birth control drug.
First, maintenance workers will install feeders on the roofs of buildings in three parks — Robert Price Park, 2050 Bonnie Lane near Nellis Air Force Base; Paradise Park, 4775 McLeod Drive south of Sunset Park and Warm Springs Road; and Walnut Park, 3075 N. Walnut Road, off East Cheyenne Avenue.
Dropping just corn into the feeders at a specific time every day, parks workers will train pigeons until their flight to the feeders is habitual. Then the feed will be spiked with birth control pellets.
For the drug to work, birds need to ingest the drug every day, but Kevin Parker, the county’s park maintenance chief, is confident the plan will work.
“If we bring the food at 7 in the morning, they’ll be there at 6:45 waiting for us, like clockwork,” he predicts.
The county has purchased nine 30-pound bags of birth control at total cost of $1,688. They figure this is enough for three months, with each pound able to keep 80 pigeons from getting pregnant. Otherwise, they would be producing two hatchlings each.
After the new fiscal year begins on July 1, Parker said, the county will purchase more bird birth control for at least a year.
“It’s guaranteed to reduce the population 53 percent in a year, 86 percent after 28 months,” Parker says, citing numbers from a California bird birth control drug salesman.
The active chemical in the drug, which is marketed as OvoControl P, is nicarbazin, which has been used since 1955 to treat intestinal parasites in broiler chickens. Through a biochemical process not entirely understood, the drug also reduces the number of successful egg hatchings.
The drug’s entry into the realm of pigeon control, made more acceptable by the EPA’s decision in May to remove a “restricted-use” classification for OvoControl P, has resulted in few complaints, and some praise, from animal and wildlife groups.
The Humane Society of the United States commended the EPA decision as a way to control pigeon populations “humanely and effectively.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has also supported use of the drug.
In the neighborhood of Hollywood, Calif., the Argyle Civic Association started drawing pigeons to feeders in 2007. Since then, the population’s decrease has been dramatic, said Annette Ehrlich, association secretary.
“It used to be you would walk down to the corner of Argyle and Franklin (avenues) and there would be hundreds of those birds just sitting there,” Ehrlich said. “Now you see a small number, nothing like before.”
How it will work in Clark County parks is anyone’s guess. Some in the pigeon control business believe it won’t work at all.
“I’m glad to see them thinking about population control, but there’s no magic pill for pigeon control,” says Nephi Oliva, who operates Nevada Pigeon Control in North Las Vegas.
He estimates there are about 750,000 pigeons in the Las Vegas Valley. Studying a flock and going after its reproductive core is the first step to control, he says. Once the alpha male is out of the picture, the remaining pigeons are easier to “round up and take into custody.”
“You’re not going to get through this without some sweat. No device or drug is going to work. Pigeons are very, very robust,” he says. “They will survive. Clark County’s going to learn the hard way. There is no cheap fix.”
“Cheap” is, of course, a relative word, but out in Southern California the birth control approach has worked “beyond our wildest dreams,” says Laura Dodson, president of the Argyle Civic Association.
One of the problems there was that a local resident had been spending an estimated $80,000 on bird seed annually to feed pigeons.
“You’ll never stop those people, or people who want to take their kids to the park to feed the pigeons,” Dodson says.
Even though her association’s birth control program has been stopped for a year, because Dodson has been away caring for an ill relative and the group hasn’t been able to keep it funded, the pigeon population has remained low, she says.
“I remember when I started pushing for this, everyone on the board said I was nuts,” Dodson says. “Then when it started working within three to six months, the accolades came.”