Alibi V.20 No.10 • March 10-16, 2011 

Council Watch

Pernicious Pigeons?

Police issues remain forefront during the public comment portion of the Council meetings. On Monday, March 7, councilors heard from a distraught Sylvia Fuentes, the mother of Len Fuentes, one of the 14 people shot by the Albuquerque Police Department in 2010. Fuentes [“A Mother’s Plea,” Nov. 18-24, 2010] challenged the Council to look at her “because this is the face of a mother of human waste.” She was referring to Officer Trey Economidy III, who listed "human waste disposal" as his job on his Facebook page [see “Peace Officer”].

In a somber moment, Councilors approved the designation of ghost bikes as descansos, which protects them under state law. There's long been a debate statewide as to whether ghost bikes qualify as memorials, and the city has removed some in the past [" A Question of Descansos," Sept. 9-15, 2010]. Sherry Anderson spoke in support of the white bicycles. Her husband, David Anderson, was killed while riding along the bike path adjacent to Paseo del Norte about a year ago. The ghost bikes are placed at the scenes of accidents where a bicyclist has been killed by a motor vehicle. Anderson said the memorials are meaningful to families and friends of killed cyclists, as well as the large cycling community in Albuquerque.

Councilors also approved the Bernalillo County Commission’s initiative to purchase about 570 acres of the old Price’s Dairy land in the far South Valley. The land would be set aside as a bird and wildlife refuge. There was no money handed out, just support for the county’s project.

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Pigeons. Friends or Felons?

Mayor Richard Berry’s administration proposed an ordinance through Councilor Brad Winter to make feeding pigeons a crime. Those caught feeding pigeons—intentionally, negligently or otherwise unknowingly—would land in front of a judge to pay fines or go to jail. Mark DiMenna, manager of the city's Urban Biology Division, said the measure is not intended to exterminate pigeons or jail more citizens. Instead, it seeks to limit food sources in an effort to manage the bird population. He said pigeon populations grow in proportion to their food source. The bird droppings, he added, are a health hazard as they end up in the Rio Grande in large-amounts. Pigeons can carry about 70 diseases transmittable to humans, such as salmonella, DiMenna said. The ordinance also gives the city the right to investigate properties with any suspicious pigeon activity as possible nuisance-abatement cases.
Councilors deferred this feathery issue for 60 days. Councilor Ken Sanchez said he was especially bothered by the clause allowing city investigators to inspect residents’ properties any time they think there might be a pigeon violation. They sent the measure back to the mayor for a rewrite without the legal heavy-handedness. City Administrative Officer Rob Perry said he sees the passion on both sides and thinks they could "get together and make it fly.” Several city residents spoke out against making feeding pigeons a crime. Georgia Tutt said she was there to speak for the birds who could not be there to speak for themselves. She urged the Council to do something about the pesticides flowing into the river instead of targeting pigeon feeders. Others spoke about how they have gotten sick and about how nasty the poop problem is on their roofs and yards because of neighbors who feed hundreds of birds. Pigeons were introduced to North America by Europeans as a food source for settlers. Worldwide, the fowl has long been raised and eaten as a delicacy.

The scrappy birds adapt well to urban environments with tall buildings and underpasses that remind them of their natural cliff dwellings.

It is ridiculous for the city to make it a crime to “negligently or intentionally” feed the birds. Maybe it's a location problem, and nourishing the pigeons could be shunned in areas such as Downtown and other high-density residential, shopping or dining areas.

On the West Coast, cities provide bird feeding stations to address the problem. If pigeon enthusiasts would look around their yards or neighborhoods, there is probably a place—a park or traffic triangle or other open space—where they can fatten their feathered friends away from neighbors. As to the damage the corrosive poop does to buildings, the city should keep looking for non-lethal, environmentally friendly ways to clean pigeon poop and discourage feeding and nesting in certain high-traffic areas. Both sides need to meet, talk and figure out ways to enjoy the birds without creating an Alfred Hitchcock situation.