City dwellers often complain about pigeons, calling them “rats with wings” and condemning them as noisy, messy, and disease-carrying excrement machines. But they are really very benign. A big part of the problem is that pigeons aren’t afraid to colonize areas that people consider their own. So can we really justify the usual methods of controlling pigeons: trapping, shooting or poisoning? Erick Wolf, CEO of Innolytics, thinks not. For 15 years, he has been developing contraceptives for pigeons and other birds that people consider pests.
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OvoControl is the official brand name, although Wolf sometimes calls its business model “Planned Pigeonhood”. The way it works is that a contraceptive chemical called nicarbazin is placed in an automatic feeder and placed where a flock of pigeons live. Every morning at the same time, the feeder throws the food and the pigeons fuss, swallowing it in minutes.
Related: Birds are dying in the air, possibly due to the effects of the climate crisis
The US Humane Society recommends OvoControl as a milder alternative to poisoning, and the EPA approved it in 2010. Wolf spoke with Inhabitat about how he got into the family planning business for birds. [Note: This interview has been edited for space.]
Inhabitat: How did you come up with this idea?
Wolf: The active ingredient in this product, the chemical that interferes with egg fertilization in birds, has been around for 65 years. It was originally developed by Merck for use in chickens. Helpfulness in chickens has nothing to do with hatching eggs, it has something to do with coccidiosis, an enteric disease that chickens catch. But it has this unwanted side effect in that it interferes with egg hatching when fed to the wrong chicken.
So we were sitting around the table having a few beers one day and thinking, “If it’s so good at preventing eggs from hatching in chickens, why not just give it to the pigeons?” »
Inhabitat: What is wrong with the usual pigeon control methods?
Wolf: Conventional methods of pigeon control are trapping, shooting or poisoning, none of which are very humane. What they use in the United States to poison birds is really horrible. You would think that a poison used to kill an animal like this would act quickly, you would give it to him, he would drop dead. Unfortunately, it is not the case. So this stuff they use commercially takes 20 minutes to 2 hours for the bird to convulse to death. It’s horrible.
If you go out and kill animals like that, you end up with more of them a few months later. You have a site with 100 pigeons and you walk in and trap or shoot or poison 50 of them, within weeks, months at the latest you have over 100 pigeons again. They just reproduce. So unless you stop breeding, there’s no point. They just came back.
Inhabitat: how do the results of OvoControl compare?
Wolf: It works great, but it’s not an overnight success. It takes time, because you have to wait for population attrition. Pigeons are dying every day. They die of disease, they die of nutrition, they die of predation. Some of them freeze to death in winter, others roast in summer. But there is this constant replenishment going on. Unless you stop this, you are going to live with the pigeons forever. They are pigeons, so they breed every 6 weeks, two eggs per clutch. Thus, five pairs of mated pigeons will make 400 birds in 2 years. So that’s what you’re up against.
I have spoken with customers who have killed 10,000 pigeons. They only had 3,000 to begin with. They hunt birds.
The people who call us are not those who have a few pigeons around. I have conversations with people who have thousands of pigeons. And it seems the more pigeons they have, the more likely they are to try and kill more. The more they earn, the more they want to murder them.
Inhabitat: So your method requires patience?
Wolf: We’ll ask customers who use it for a month to say, “I haven’t seen anything happen.” I say, “You’re not supposed to see anything happen.” Pigeons are dying every day. But the only way to kill them with OvoControl is to just drop a 30-pound bag of them on it. So the pigeon died. But other than that, you’re not going to kill pigeons. So get used to it.
We have customers who have been using this material for years. After a few, three years, the management will change or something and I will stop getting orders. It’s usually about 2 or 3 years later, I get an email: “Send us 10 bags.” (laughs) If you stop, they start breeding again.
Inhabitat: Who are your customers?
Wolf: Who will pay for this? People talked to us and they said, “Oh my God, cities must be great customers. They have so many pigeons. And I say yes and no. They have a lot of pigeons but they are not so interested in putting them on birth control. There is no budget in city maintenance for birth control for birds.
The fruits at hand for the company are pretty much large industrial sites. Power plants, oil refineries, steel mills, pulp and paper, glass foundries, ports. Not necessarily airports, but seaports. Great places. Places where you cannot stretch a net to keep pigeons out. Any type of manufacturing facility that has open doors. The hospitals are good. What a hospital very typically has are parking garages and plenty of places for pigeons to find lockers. There is a lot of heat produced there. University campuses are good because they are multi-structured. In a multi-structure facility, the guy will come in and say, “We’re going to clean up the physics building because it’s got all the pigeons on it.” So they catch up with the physics building and all the pigeons go to the chemistry building. They are resident birds. They don’t leave campus. This is where they found food. This is where their nests are. This is where they will stay.
Inhabitat: Are your customers international?
Wolf: We now have registrations in Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. We have one pending that looks very promising in Australia, and pending in New Zealand as well.
Here in the home market, the United States, it continues to be a very long and difficult battle. People want tangible and immediate results. When you tell them you’re going to lose half your birds in one year, then another half the next year and so on, the pest controller will say, “Forget it. My client wants the birds to leave today.
Images via Pixabay