No matter your own personal feelings about street pigeons, a visit to a major European city just wouldn't be the same without encountering the ubiquitous winged urbanites in overwhelming droves: bathing en masse in fountains, teetering upon — and defecating from — the ledges of historic buildings, congregating in public squares in such great numbers that the pavement morphs into a filthy, squawking sea of feathers, beaks and imperious attitudes.
Similar to London, Venice and Paris, Barcelona has long struggled with taming its own sizable — and seemingly perpetually multiplying — feral pigeon (Columba livia domestica) population. City-dwelling descendants of the wild rock dove have all but taken over — and left their unsightly mark on — some of the Catalan capital city’s most popular and iconic plazas and public spaces including Plaça de Catalunya, Plaça Reial, Plaça de Sant Jaume, Parc Güell and the stressfully pigeon-heavy area around Font Màgica.
Joining animal control authorities in neighboring municipalities, Barcelona officials have signaled that it’s high time that they ramp up their pigeon control game by employing what might seem like a most unusual tactic — a tactic that’s been heralded by animal welfare activists as being exceptionally ethical when compared to other more gruesome methods of curbing feral pigeon populations.
They’re putting pigeons on the pill.
Avoiding the cull
Citing a recent article published by El Mundo, Motherboard reports that animal control authorities were initially going to go the quick and dirty route: a large-scale culling in which hundreds of birds would be rounded up and killed. However, the government was ultimately persuaded by numerous animal rights groups to consider a just-as-effective method that, ideally, will not result in a single pigeon death: providing the birds with birth control.
Following an extensive pigeon census that will help officials better understand exactly how many pigeons they are dealing with (current estimates in Barcelona hover around 85,000), 40 bird feeders stocked with contraceptive-laced pellets will be installed in particularly pigeon-heavy areas. The pellets will contain nicarbazin, an anti-parasitic drug first used to treat poultry. While effective as a coccidiostat, a well documented side-effect of the drug is that it renders female birds infertile by halting egg formation. In turn, nicarbazin has emerged as an increasingly popular choice amongst animal control experts looking to control pesky bird populations — feral pigeons and Canadian geese, in particular — without resorting to gratuitous slaughter.
A spokesman with the Barcelona city council tells the Daily Mail that officials anticipate that by providing the scourge of street pigeons with birth control, the population could drop by as much as 20 percent within just one year. Within just a few years, the population could be reduced by 70 to 80 percent.
Considering the rather harrowing current state of pigeons in Barcelona, a reduction of 80 percent will likely be viewed by most as welcoming news. But while Barcelona's wealth of historic building and monuments will be less poop-stained and its residents and visitors less inconvenienced/intimidated thanks to such a dramatic drop in numbers, one does wonder about a virtually pigeon-free city. For better or worse, the birds are part of the urban fabric in Spain's second largest city. Would a pigeon-free — or pigeon-lite — Plaça de Catalunya have the same authentic charm as a Plaça de Catalunya that's swarming with hundreds of birds? Will another bird take over in the pigeons' absence? And what will become of those little old Spanish pensioners who never, ever leave home without a small paper bag filled with breadcrumbs?