VENICE, Italy-Ten years after the ban was placed on public feeding, the ‘holy pigeons’ at the St Mark’s Square in this Italian city are not ready to migrate.
They are still as friendly – in fact annoyingly friendly – as they were when the authorities banned the common practice of feeding the pigeons to stop them from ruining their UNESCO city status.
There are still many visitors who in the blink of an eye throw something for the pigeons who firstly fight for the food and then “chase” the donor for more.
Security officials are on the look for the tourists who attract pigeons – with the baits – and could come up with anything from a verbal warning to a €700 fine, for the violator. The huge fines have been effective in discouraging the people from feeding the birds. The ban on feeding the pigeons was forced in 2008.
In ‘Venice: A Literary Companion’ Ian Littlewood explained the origins of the Piazza San Marco’s pigeon colony: “According to tradition, it was from the gallery (of the Basilica) where we are standing that the original pigeons were released on Palm Sunday, weighted by pieces of paper tied to their legs. Most of them ended up on the dinner table as part of the Doge’s Easter largesse to the populace, but the rugged survivors were felt to have earned St Mark’s protection. So year by year, a few more pigeons found refuge among the domes on the basilica. They have since grown more numerous, and the enthusiasm of most tourists for the birds is short-lived, but as the average visitor now spends less than twenty-four hours in the city they still have plenty of friends.”
Pigeons perching on seed-throwing tourists used to be the square’s trademark. Today, the pigeons have formed colonies throughout the city, and the estimated 100,000 birds far outnumber Venice’s 60,000 human residents.
It can be disconcerting to walk down a street and encounter several dozen pigeons flying toward you at head height. They usually miss pedestrians, but sometimes may hit.
The sellers of pigeon food were legally banned from the Piazza San Marco in January 2008, which means nobody is able to feed pigeons unless he or she is a violator of the rules.
Those trying to please the pigeons have to sometimes pay for the love. In some cases, the whole budget to spend vacations in Italy is paid in fines.
Laura Smith, a tourist from the US said that she did not agree with the ban. “I would love to feed the pigeons here but the Italian authorities have the right to force their rules. In principle, I am against it (the ban). When the places are linked with saints, pigeons are frequent visitors,” she maintained.
Antonio Russo, an Italian visitor of the site defended the decision against feeding the pigeons saying it would help keep the square clean. “(Before 2008), it was common that the tourists complained about being pooed on the head or shirt by the pigeons. All rules are meant at facilitating the people,” he remarked. Initially, there were protests by the grain sellers against the anti-feeding decision in 2098 but they have slowly opted for other businesses. The pigeons, however, remain undecided.
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