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By Anna Lothson
Oak Parkers aren't keeping their opinions on pigeons cooped up.
The village board's initial discussions of a recommendation to amend an ordinance that would allow pigeons to be trapped and euthanized if they continue to sneak through preventative measures, as explained in last week's issue, has become a hot-button issue.
This case, specifically related to the Marion Street train viaduct, sparked nearly 100 comments on OakPark.com from both pro-pigeon and anti-pigeon residents. The Chief Executive Officer of OvoControl, a California-based company that produces birth control for pigeons, along with a field director for the urban wildlife program at the Humane Society of the United States, reached out to Wednesday Journal once the news went viral.
The matter, set to be voted on at the village board's June 4 meeting, outlines that pigeons, sparrows and starlings would fall fate to the ordinance — a regulation that didn't settle well with many of the website commenters. Others seemed pleased to see the village working to tackle the animal some called "rats with wings."
Mike Charley, environmental health supervisor in the village, presented the recommendations at the May 21 meeting, but further discussion will be left until its June 4 meeting.
Charley emphasized in a phone interview last week that the village isn't advocating killing pigeons; rather it's being viewed as a last resort.
"It's not even our first or second option," he said. "We prefer to exclude pigeons from an area."
The problem, however, is the village's first option isn't working. In February the village installed netting to shut off the recesses of the viaduct's support beams, but the birds snuck through. Also, it was noticed that many of the birds shifted their presence from the blocked-off nesting areas to lighting fixtures. The village then sought the recommendations of a wildlife biologist from the United States Department of Agriculture Division of Wildlife Services, who suggested an integrated "pest-control management program" that involves a combination of trapping mechanisms and bird spikes to discourage roosting.
The resilient ones, however, would be humanly euthanized, the ordinance states. Charley said he wasn't sure what the process for killing the birds was, but said it would be monitored and done by staff of the USDA. He said village employees would survey the area, but activity would be documented by the USDA in "routine intervals."
"This is really the last thing we want to do with any type of animals," Charley said. "There are other things we'd rather do, but we're making the best decision with the hand that was dealt to us. This is what's being recommended."
Scott Beckerman, state director for USDA Wildlife Services, said moving birds is not effective and shifts the problems onto residents and businesses. Instead of continuing to spend money on products, like netting, that haven't been working, he said it is sometimes best to eliminate the problem.
If the village chooses to move forward with the plan that involves euthanizing the trapped birds, a carbon monoxide method that's done either on site in a truck or at an off-site warehouse or office location would be used, according to Beckerman. He said it's a humane tactic that's approved by veterinarians.
The caged birds, he added, would be checked twice a week and given food and water while they wait.
Beckerman said pigeons, a non-native species to the area, have droppings that can carry a number of diseases.
Overall, Charley said the nuisance, both appearance- and health-wise has made the matter important to address as soon as possible. Charley is confident in the expert's recommendations, but some suggest other tactics would be more effective.
Oak Park resident John Murtagh said what's he's most concerned about is the process of drafting the ordinance. He suggests the board be presented with a broader range of options that includes more input from experts and the rest of the community.
"This is a classic case of not doing due diligence," he said about Oak Park drafting its language from another town. "Going to Winnetka is not advice. … The village did not do its homework."
The culture of Oak Park and its people needed to be taken into account before making rash suggestions to have a law that allows for the killing of birds, said Murtagh, who noted that he isn't especially attached to birds one way or the other.
"The board should be demanding more due diligence on what options they have," he said. Having changes made without community input with such a permanent outcome isn't how he'd like to see the decision made.
Laura Simon, field director of the Humane Society of the United States' Urban Wildlife Program, said it's a "shame" to see this as a growing trend in municipalities.
"And the tragedy is it doesn't work. What happens is that you remove the birds and new birds move in," said Simon, who later said she received multiple phone calls from Oak Park residents following last week's article. "The program continues and the killing continues. Residents are going to see that their money is going to continue to be wasted."
She agrees that products like netting and bird spikes are superior alternatives if installed properly. She said once an environment becomes unattractive the birds scatter; therefore the village should focus on preventative measures more.
"The tools are there," she said. "But the city would really do far better investing money in a long-term solution."
Erick Wolf, chief executive officer of OvoControl, suggested controlling pigeon population is one long-term solution that is proven to reduce the birds' presence by 50 percent a year, according to their results. He thinks rushing to trap birds isn't effective.
"You can either increase mortality, or reduce reproduction. There is nothing else," he said. "There's no magic wand. It takes time."
While there may not be an easy answer, Oak Park resident Kathleen Wrobel said it's time the village eliminates the problem anyway possible.
"They are very disease ridden and their droppings are just a mess. It is a terrible nuisance," she said. "Not only is it a nuisance, it's a health nuisance."
Wrobel said she doesn't want to see the viaducts that the village plans to enhance destroyed by pigeons anymore. Specifically, the Marion Street stop will undergo a renovation to beautify the archways and install new LED lighting sometime in the fall or spring.
"I'm all for it," she said about the possibility of euthanizing pigeons. "We put money into art and sculptures [at the train viaducts]. Let's be a little more practical and get rid of the pigeons."
Financially, she said she wants the village to spend what's necessary to be rid of the issue. She's lived in condominiums with similar problems, and she said after spending a "good deal" of money, the issue nearly disappeared. A combination of netting and spikes solved her pigeon headache.
"We got what we paid for," Wrobel said.