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