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Opinion: Bill Walton, The Much-Maligned Ubiquitous Pigeon

Will there be exemptions for people who have no other friends to sit with in the park?
20210918 roofing walton

Descended from Rock Doves, domesticated for food thousands of years ago, the Rock Pigeon can be found worldwide but especially in Mattawa. I have seen several of these grey/black/white birds in North Bay but not enough of them to excite our council and mayor to ban the feeding of these voracious fowl as was done in the town to the east of us. Of course, it might not be too soon to make pigeon control an issue for the next municipal election if you are already thinking of running for office (note to Team V and mini-wrench).

The revenue stream for fines to people for intentionally feeding pigeons may not be substantial but the enforcement costs will likely lead to a loss on the books. The problem will arise in defining ‘intentional’. Are people who toss out the pizza ribs, the crusts from nibbled sandwiches, the remains of a bag of Cheetos, or the over-cooked small pieces of potato chips intentional feeders of the pigeon? What of those people who over-seed their lawn with delicious grass seeds, or create a worm haven with freshly mown and watered front yards? What of those roofing companies that may be in cahoots by offering free bread crusts to the pigeon feeders?

And will the by-law enforcement people descend, ticket book in hand, upon those people who feed woodpeckers and chickadees, because I know from experience that those birds seem to have a symbiotic relationship with the pigeons: they drop out special seeds and bits of suet for their ground-feeding pigeon friends below the feeders. Pigeon feeding, accessory after the fact - $250.

Will there be exemptions for people who have no other friends to sit with in the park, save some rock pigeons who can coo and grunt as they wait for a treat? The argument that you are fattening the birds for a thanksgiving dinner may require a person to submit a recipe for a pigeon pie, and when in court, the necessity to have a sample ‘pigeon’ pie for the judge’s tasting. (Hint: get a couple of those 4” turkey pies from the bakery in Sturgeon Falls as evidence for the judge that ‘pigeon’ is delicious).

As much as ornithologists may enjoy studying rock pigeons, and as much as the hawks and raccoons enjoy eating the plump birds, the pigeon does present some problems. Pigeon poop can carry some dangerous pathogens. Ingested pigeon poop can lead to several diseases in humans, such as Salmonella (bacterial infection), Psittacosis (flu-like illness), Diarrhea, and Histoplasmosis (a respiratory disease caused by a fungus in the excrement). Don’t eat things contaminated by pigeon poop (or other bird droppings). And apparently, this toxic substance can also damage roof shingles in Mattawa.

Pigeon poop also defaces statues, although not as effectively as spray paint, and this may be an indication of how advanced the domesticated rock doves have become in the past 3,000 years since they made friends with homo sapiens. Wasn’t there some old commandment about making graven images of politicians lest the fowl of the air should despoil the handicraft of man?

Anyway, the term pigeon, as used in the upcoming Mattawa bylaw, may also apply to those who are stool pigeons and those who feed them, albeit likely in government coin, not farmer’s corn. Hopefully, there will be an exemption for those people who have a legitimate Neighbourhood Stool Pigeon Watch sign in their window. The Report a Poacher program will also exempt stool pigeons unless said poachers are shooting Rock Pigeons for a Thanksgiving stew (allow ½ pigeon per person).

Do not be confused by the phrase ‘plucking a pigeon’ as it has nothing to do with making a tasty stew.  Think of today’s computer phishing, CRA scams, and emails from Nigeria. In the olden days, the act of scamming was described as ‘groping a gull’ (hence ‘gullible’) and ‘plucking a pigeon’. In my mind’s eye I can easily visualize plucking a pigeon of its feathers – from my days raising chickens – but groping a gull - somehow . . . I can foresee a North Bay by-law against groping gulls.

It’s too bad that there are not chicken-friendly city by-laws that would allow for the raising of Leghorns, Plymouth Rocks, or New Hampshire Reds as one might propose an amendment to the by-law to include Roof Chickens, what my old friend used to call the chicken in Chicken Soo Guy. However, it seems to be a sign of the times: more things you cannot do, like feed the ducks at the Waterfront, feed the squirrels at City Hall, feed the pigeons on Main Street, feed the woodpeckers that might, in jest, peck holes in utility poles, feed the deer in winter, feed those dangerous darting hummingbirds, and for heaven’s sake, don’t feed the Monarchs by planting milkweed.

Maybe it is time to make a suggestion to the wildlife and domesticated animal feeders: match what you are spending on animal food with a contribution to the human food bank. No by-law is necessary. Maybe a human will thank you as much as the pigeons, cats, and dogs.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

retired from City of North Bay in 2000 writer, poet, columnist
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