Dear Answer Man: I noticed the other day that there are very few pigeons flying around downtown. I used to love watching their superbly synchronized acrobatics, as squadrons of perhaps 100 birds took flight. Sadly, lately I’ve seen just a handful of pigeons. Did some institution get tired of cleaning up after them, like the owners of the Old Opera House in Pine Island did a few weeks ago? — A Sad Lover of Pigeons
Well, Sad Lover, some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue. And while it sounds like you were happy as a lark when the bird population soared, right now, they’re scarcer than hen’s teeth.
My first call was to Mike Nigbur, who is in charge of the city’s crow-scaring efforts. He did not know of any pigeon decline downtown. His guess was that Mayo’s peregrine falcon program may have caused the pigeons to chicken out.
Replacing one bird population with another? That would be a little hawkward.
Tom Behrens, Mayo’s facilities chief in charge of the peregrine program, thinks that’s a likely explanation, though.
“The falcons will take some pigeons out, but not a lot — especially when there’s no young,” he said. “But the pigeons learn not to get into big groups, because they know they’re vulnerable that way.”
What’s likely happening, dear reader, is a general spreading-out — not a thinning of the flock. The smaller birds are nesting farther away from downtown, and when they do show up here, they’re in smaller groups. Kind of like how you spread spinach around your plate to make your parents think you’ve eaten it.
Jackie Fallon of the Midwest Peregrine Society backed that up.
“I would not say that the peregrines would cause a significant decline in the pigeon population, but they may alter the behavior of the pigeons to roost or move away from the immediate vicinity of the nesting buildings at Mayo,” she said.
Mike Tenney, the area wildlife supervisor for the DNR, said the pigeon population could potentially drop due to disease or predation from other animals.
Jaime Edwards, also of the DNR, was not aware of any efforts to control the pigeon population (via poison or any other man-made means). It’s not an uncommon action, she said, but pigeon control usually occurs around grain loading areas and elevators — neither of which you’re likely to find walking around downtown.
West Nile virus has disappeared from headlines for a bit, Edwards said, but that doesn’t mean the animal population can sleep easy. Pigeons are still susceptible to the fowl disease, which could have an effect on the population.
Finally, she mentioned that when we have “goofy springs like this” (read: unending slogs of cold, wet weather), it’s hard for birds to incubate their nests warmly enough to hatch eggs. So over a short period of time, you’ll start seeing fewer birds downtown.
Behrens, though, reassured me that pigeons breed year-round, and the population probably hasn’t decreased.
In the end, the answer may be for the birds. Pigeons aren’t native to Minnesota, so Edwards said the DNR isn’t tracking any fluctuations in the population.
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