Photo by Robert Ax
Artillery Row

A plague of pigeons

When the magic of nature becomes a curse

I was at my desk, looking out of the window. A grey ball blustered past with a twig in its beak. Three minutes later, it was back with another twig. Then another. Aw, I said, it’s building a nest. So it was. The pigeon was building a nest next door, on the windowsill of the empty house. Aren’t birds wonderful, I thought. The magic of nature.

A week later, there were twelve of the bastards. This sounds like an exaggeration. It isn’t. I counted them: twelve. Within days, the gutters and downpipes of the house next door were glutinous with guano, as if plastered with pancake batter.

My blue geraniums developed a leopard-print of guano overnight

Ruthless colonisation began soon after. I had given them an inch. Not only had they taken the proverbial mile, they had defecated all over it. Now they wanted more.

I live in a terraced house. There’s just a small yard at the back, with room for a few potted plants and a gently rusting stepladder. My blue geraniums didn’t stand a chance. They developed a leopard-print of guano overnight, whilst the stepladder became a convenient forward redoubt for the invader. The ground began to resemble a grotesque ice rink. Then there was the noise. My god, the noise: a slutty whooping every dawn and dusk.

Something had to be done.

You can’t kill them, did you know that? Not legally. I did look at slingshots online. Marvellous things — the best ones come from America. Turns out there’s a bit of a slingshot subculture over there. I browsed, I’ll admit it. I looked at the ammo. There are beautiful steel balls. You can get clay balls, too, but I liked the look of cold steel. You can’t kill pigeons, though. That’s against the law.

The feral pigeon is a seedy character. They should not be confused with wood pigeons. Wood pigeons are real beauty queens, plump and pretty and ready for the pie. You’d have to be desperate to eat a feral pigeon. Graphite plumage crawls with mites. Eyes are a traffic-light orange, with an oily slick of green at the throat. Chickpea brain whirs away, always alert for new shitting grounds.

Feral pigeons don’t just look rotten. They are rotten. In 2021, the British Pest Control Association found that 49 per cent carry a form of chlamydia that can be passed to humans. They cause other diseases, too. The worst is histoplasmosis. That’s when you get fungal spores in the lungs. Histoplasmosis can be fatal.

Pigeons can give you chlamydia. They can even kill you — but you cannot kill them. They are the greatest beneficiaries of our arbitrary distinction between “wildlife” (foxes, badgers, interesting snails) and “vermin” (rats, mice, opinion columnists).

Orange eyes stared back at me with unblinking contempt

I searched “HOW KILL PIGEON” on Reddit — just to have a look. There was a lot of talk about a popular remedy for hangovers. I won’t go into detail. Even I, with my cold hatred of pigeonkind, was a little shocked by the proposed method. Besides, we all know how things are these days. Give one of the grey little vagrants so much as a funny look, and you’re a dead man walking. I can picture it now — some cackling twitcher hunting me through the streets with a slingshot. No, I’m not made for life on the lam. I could not kill the pigeons. So I would have to deter them.

This was a problem. I had no access to the vacant house next door. The heart of the pigeons’ operation was beyond my reach. Windowsill spikes and peppery gels are all very well if you can install them where they are needed. This I could not do. So the pigeons multiplied. They woke me every morning with their tedious cooing. They tarred and feathered the brickwork. They indulged in flagrant displays of public copulation. They built ramshackle nests and shat all over them. You could almost smell the chlamydia.

One evening, animated by cheap lager and impotent rage, I manufactured a crude water pistol from a plastic bottle. My piddling salvos across the yard wall were met with the dip of a head, a fanning tail. Orange eyes stared back at me with unblinking contempt.

I would have to spend some money: sixty-five quid for a state-of-the-art pigeon deterrent. It’s a small green box that emits “modulated frequencies”. The sound doesn’t harm the pigeons, but it does make them uncomfortable enough to leave the immediate area. It sort of worked. Ten pigeons moved two houses down. Two remained. I think they were the original pair, the ones who first came to build a nest. I’ll give them this — what they have, they hold.

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