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Pigeon Gentrification

How to house our feathered friends


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STEVE COHEN of the West of Fourth Street Neighborhood has had it with pigeons. For 18 months now, he's been complaining about pigeon poop in downtown San Jose. Local businesses are raising funds to pigeon-proof their buildings and Cohen says the City Council still refuses to deal with the problem.

"There's so many things we can do to make things better without spending a million dollars of redevelopment money," he says. "The YWCA [on South Third Street] spent thousands of dollars on pigeon-proofing. They had one company come in and put up netting and spikes but they could only afford to do the first two floors, so all the pigeons moved up to the next two floors. In the meantime, the woman who was feeding them for 30 years died. So that cluster of pigeons has now moved over to the Fox Theatre area." Alas, the poop shall continue.

To explore some international solutions to this perpetual crisis, Biter flew off to Quebec City to investigate how the French-Canadians deal with their pigeon problems. After all, the passenger pigeon, or la tourte, played a significant role in Quebec culture. They were once the most numerous bird species on this continent and the delicious bird gave its nom de plume to the famous Quebecois meat pie la tourtière.

So, we drove down Grande-Allée in Quebec City, near Parliament Hill and the Plains of Abraham, until we reached the 5,000-square-meter Parc de la Francophonie (Francophone Park). Along with an outdoor amphitheater and a gorgeous water fountain, the park is home to the pigeonnier, or the "Pigeon Condominium." Constructed in the late 1980s, the pigeonnier (pronounced pee-zhon-YAY) is a tall skinny cement structure that functions like a gigantic birdhouse of sorts. Filled with numerous holes where the pigeons roost, the structure is heated so the pigeons can even hang out during Quebec's brutal subzero winters. Le pigeonnier attracts the birds all year round and the park itself used to be called pigeonnier park until the name was changed in 1995.

"It was a way to house them all in one place to make sure that they would not nest in old abandoned houses and things like that," explained Paule Bergeron of the Quebec City & Area Tourism and Convention Bureau. "We don't mind the pigeons so bad," she said. "It's just their droppings we don't like as much. That's why we have to control them. They have a tendency to drop everywhere, mostly on top of your shoulder and your head."

The Quebecers are quite creative when it comes to dealing with bird problems. Local tour guide Sharon Frenette told us the pigeon condo includes food laced with birth control ingredients to prevent the pigeons from reproducing. "But only the Protestant ones," she said, taking into account Quebec's religious heritage. "Not the Catholics."

Many building owners have also installed barbed wire on ledges to keep the pigeons away. And a huge paper mill near the St. Lawrence River blasts fake gunshot sounds in order to shoo away the ever-present flocks of seagulls. "Some people will even have an artificial owl that they put on their private homes," Bergeron says. "It frightens the pigeons, so they don't come."

There you have it. Maybe the city of San Jose can learn something from the French-Canadians. "If [San Jose] can spend 400 million on a city hall, why can't they spend money on a pigeon condominium?" Cohen asked us. Biter admits we don't have an answer to that question, but we just might consider buying some stock in the fake owl industry.

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From the March 17-24, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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