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When in Venice: Feed the Birds, Tuppence (and 1,000 Bucks) a Bag

Scott Vogel

In pigeon advocacy circles, these are perilous times indeed. For one thing, the birds have been targeted by local governments around the world, many of them tourist hot spots like New York, London, Los Angeles and now ... Venice.

Buying a bag of bread crumbs and feeding the winged residents of the Piazza San Marco was, for generations, a tourist's rite of passage. Even after a ban was imposed on pigeon-feeding in other parts of Venice, the area around St. Mark's was given special dispensation for a time. But starting today, May 7, it is illegal legal for tourists or locals to feed pigeons in St. Mark's or anywhere else in the floating city, and violators risk incurring a 50 euro fine ($78).

The anti-pigeon movement is now nothing short of an international phenomenon, it seems, and one that appears to be picking up speed. Feeding the birds in London's Trafalgar Square can now get you a fine of up to $1,000, Los Angeles is experimenting with a form of pigeon birth control, and anti-pigeon legislation is pending in New York and several other cities.

Much of the anti-pigeon rhetoric centers on the contention that the birds are diseased (although in Venice's case, their pecking has been blamed for damage to monuments). Hence the "rats with wings" adage. But while pigeons are indeed nuisances (one bird produces 100 pounds of droppings over its 4-year lifespan), pigeon advocates claim that the birds are more victim than perpetrator.

Victims, that is, of an unfair public relations campaign.

"Contrary to popular belief, cases of pigeon diseases spread to humans are extremely rare," says a statement on the blog People for Pigeons. "Why then do we read horror stories in the media every day about the 60 or 70 fatal diseases that pigeons are supposedly capable of transmitting to human beings?," says a statement on the Save the Pigeons Web site. "Because the pest control industry and those that have a vested commercial interest in controlling pigeons have a very efficient propaganda machine constantly churning out scare stories designed to sell their products."

And so, even as the anti-pigeon stalwarts are mobilizing against the birds, a group of equally stalwart pro-pigeon types is mobilizing too. New York's Central Park is poised to host a happening of sorts on June 13, National Pigeon Day having been declared. (The date if you're wondering, was chosen because it's on June 13, 1919, that Cher Ami, one of World War I's most celebrated carrier pigeons, died as a result of war wounds.) Among the day's sponsors are groups like In Defense of Animals, not to mention United Poultry Concerns.

In short, what we have here is an issue poised for a showdown, and the feathers may well fly. Pigeon advocates claim that the birds are a critical element of urban culture, often the only living things in a sea of concrete. Pigeon-haters think it's long past time that these Hitchcockian flocks be brought under control.

Well, what do you think?

By Scott Vogel |  May 7, 2008; 9:28 AM ET  | Category:  In the News , Scott Vogel , The Odd File
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I've been to Piazzo San Marco and the pigeon density is THICK. Rather unbelievable unless you've seen it yourself. I can sympathize with both sides of the debate, but if pigeons were peacocks, this wouldn't be a problem, now would it?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 10:34 AM

Two years ago, we went to Venice with our two boys who were then nine and twelve years old. I will always treasure the memories (and the pictures) of the delight on our nine year old's face as he fed the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco. Only children can display such utterly unrestrained joy. We made a point of doing a pigeon feeding each night we were there because it was so much fun to watch him. It is sad that others will be deprived of the opportunity to form such memories.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 12:46 PM

I'm thinkin' Bastilla (MOroccan Pigeon Pie).

Posted by: Mmmmmmmm..... | May 7, 2008 1:20 PM

I was at San Marco Plaza in February and saw the predatory pigeons. At the time there was some outdoor dining in the plaza. We didn't eat there. Even with umbrellas, it seemed unappatizing. I wonder how those cafes protect their food, and thier diners from indiscriminate plops.

Posted by: Balti | May 7, 2008 3:15 PM

Pigeon poop is acidic--eats away at masonry. We had pigeons and the resulting damage was visible even on a 1960's house. Imagine what impact on old masonry...
Peacocks have a shrill call. They may look beautiful in mating season, which is the only time the males have those tail feathers. They are wild in Southern Maryland.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2008 5:32 PM

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