Put your hands up and back away from the breadcrumbs. Feeding New York City pigeons could soon be banned under a proposal to thin the flocks of the birds sometimes referred to as "rats with wings."
City Councilman Simcha Felder plans to introduce legislation to ban pigeon feeding and fine those caught flouting the ban $1,000.
The ammonia and uric acids in pigeon droppings can rust steel and corrode infrastructure, he wrote in a report outlining potential solutions to the pigeon problem. A pigeon excretes an average 25 pounds of droppings per year, he said.
"We have pigeons doing whatever they do all over the city without anyone trying to stop it," Felder said outside City Hall on Monday. "If people like pigeons, take them into their homes, feed pigeons in your house and let them crap all over the place in your living rooms."
He also suggested appointing a "pigeon czar" to orchestrate the fight, a plan that has ruffled the feathers of animal lovers.
"Cities are lifeless places. People don't appreciate the fact that we have some wildlife," said Al Streit, director of The Pigeon People, an organization that rescues injured birds.
Felder countered that "the fact is that people have been disgusted and annoyed." Noting that he frequently dodges pigeon droppings at his Brooklyn subway station, Felder added: "I might as well say that I'm sick and tired of it."
What other cities have done
In his report, Felder recommends looking at how other cities have gone about reducing their pigeon populations.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone banned pigeon feeding in Trafalgar Square, closed down the official feed vendors there and brought in hawks to scare away pigeons that remained.
Los Angeles has begun a trial use of pigeon birth control called OvoControl P.
Venice, Italy, is trying to stop the sale of bird seed in St. Mark's Square and prevent pigeons from chipping away at marble statues and buildings. Licensed bird feed sellers do not want to go and animal rights activists have also expressed concern.
And Basel, Switzerland, helped reduce its pigeon population by stealing the birds' eggs and replacing them with fakes, fooling them.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not endorsed a feeding ban but said at a news conference Monday that he thought the city's pigeons were a problem.
"We do have a lot of pigeons and they do tend to foul a lot of our areas, and people would be better off not feeding the pigeons," he said.
Attack on Chihuahua ended hawk strategy
Attempts to shoo pigeons from parts of the city have had mixed results.
Electrifying roosting areas under elevated subway tracks has had some success, but noise deterrents — using recordings of hawks and other predators — haven't worked as well because New York City pigeons appear to be unfazed by noise.
An attempt to use hawks in Manhattan's Bryant Park in 2003 was scrapped after a hawk attacked a pet Chihuahua.
European settlers brought pigeons to North America as domesticated birds; the animals that rule New York City are their wild descendants.
Despite their reputation as disease carriers, the city Health Department does not consider pigeons a major danger and says the average New Yorker is not at risk of catching anything from the birds or their droppings.
Hearings on Felder's plan may be called before the end of the year.