A message for the birds: Avoid this no-fly zone
October 2, 2008
By KAREN VELIE
Pigeons are dropping from the Atascadero skies, bleeding from the eyes and dying after allegedly being drugged by pest control workers retained by owners of Atascadero’s Mission Oaks Shopping Center.
It might be a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “The Birds,” but this time the birds are losing. Dozens of pigeons, apparently ill and flying erratically, have alarmed customers and employees of the shopping center who have witnessed the chemical carnage.
A reporter Saturday saw a group of about 20 pigeons attempting to navigate from the shopping center rooftop to a nearby Shell service station. One swooped into the back of the establishment and toppled onto the feather-littered parking lot. Nearby, a smaller pigeon shuddered and fell to the ground. With blood dripping from its eyes, the bird convulsed, twisted in pain, and died.
The stated objective, ironically, is humane treatment of the creatures.
“It is pretty darn creepy,” said Russ Benson, a cashier at the Shell Station post office. Benson said, “The pest control company is trying to give them [the birds] a bad trip they will associate with this area, and move on to somewhere else.”
Property owners Tom Murrell and John Wilson did not return requests for comment.
To ward off pigeons, the company placed corn laced with hallucinogens on the center’s roof as a “non-lethal” form of pest control, said a mall employee who asked to remain unnamed.
Heidi Quiggly from the state’s Department of Agriculture investigated the scene following a complaint from a cashier.
“It was very disturbing,” Quiggly said. “It sounds like Avitrol. We will do an investigation and find out exactly what is going on. It is a legal use, though it is unpleasant.”
Companies promote Avitrol as a non-lethal, flock-dispersing agent. Distributors claim birds, tormented by memories of the drug’s effects, will relate it to the area and move.
However, some pigeons ingest more than the recommended dosage, and as a consequence often suffer for hours of violent convulsions and hallucinations before succumbing.
Lawful in the United States, Avitrol has nevertheless been banned in cities like New York and San Francisco because of assertions that a slow and painful death by poison is inhumane. Also, the poison’s ready availability has led to the deaths of non-targeted species: protected songbirds ingest the pesticide and red-tail hawks and peregrine falcons unwittingly feed on pigeon corpses.