Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
Manufacturer of Bird Poison Avitrol Goes Out of Business
I can’t help it: I’m always rooting for the underdogs. In our society animals are often the ultimate underdogs. But even among animals, people tend to make distinctions and assumptions that place concerns for one species over another. Often the reason for such bias is unfounded or based in misunderstanding.
Take pigeons, for example.
While the intelligence of pigeons is often underestimated, numerous studies concerned with animal cognition demonstrate that pigeons can be taught relatively complex actions and response sequences and can remember hundreds of images for periods of several years. Pigeons are also among the few animals who have been shown to have the ability to recognize their reflection in a mirror and an image of themselves. They share this ability with humans, African grey parrots, elephants, dolphins and chimpanzees.
In addition pigeons have unique abilities to learn routes back to their home from long distances. This homing behavior is different from that of birds that show migration, which usually occurs over a fixed route at fixed times of the year; homing is more flexible. Even with the most advanced GPS equipment most people can’t match the home-finding ability of pigeons.
Despite the facts, these birds are often deemed “pests” and as a result are mercilessly killed in cities across the country and often by 4-aminopyridine, a poison commercially known as Avitrol, despite humane alternatives.
On Oct. 31, the only U.S. manufacturer of Avitrol, a product responsible for the deaths of millions of birds every year, closed its doors and ceased sales.
Good news for birds everywhere, but Born Free’s work isn’t over yet.
Our team has been battling the use of Avitrol for more than 10 years, working with communities and business owners across the country to use humane non-lethal methods of addressing conflicts with wild birds. Most recently, in September, Born Free USA’s Monica Engebretson addressed the Los Angeles City Council about the widespread use of Avitrol in the city and encouraged the council to adopt our model bird ordinance that emphasises proactive, humane and environmentally sound policy for dealing with wild bird conflicts.
We’ve also taken our concerns about the product directly to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2007, we told the EPA during the ecological risk assessment of Avitrol that the poison should be re-classified and its use severely restricted or prohibited, and that the data used to originally register the product ages ago were not acceptable under current standards and posed an unacceptable risk to the environment, wildlife and people — especially children.
Perhaps our concerns finally were heard as the closure of the Avitrol manufacturer came in the midst of a review by EPA that likely would have resulted in additional restrictions on the use of this product.
While the company closure is welcome news, it is important to point out that existing stocks of Avitrol can continue to be used. This means that this toxic poison may continue to be spread about communities for years to come without preventative intervention.
Moreover, it may only be a matter of time before a new and equally inhumane and dangerous product or method of addressing conflicts with birds is introduced. As such, Born Free will continue to urge the city of Los Angeles and other communities to adopt policies that prohibit cruel poisons and require that humane, non-lethal approaches be utilized.
Lethal control is not only cruel — it’s ineffective in the long term. Poisonings must be repeated year after year to offset the high reproductive rates of pigeons. According to the National Pest Control Association, “While the strategy of bird removal (trapping and/or lethal baiting) reduces the population, it only offers a temporary solution to the problem. Birds will migrate back into the area and re-inhabit previous roosting sites if they are not excluded from the site. So in either case for long-term bird management, exclusion is essential.”
The use of poison represents just one of the many options available to the pest-control operators and health agencies and, as such, they are not necessarily reliant upon this poison. Indeed, in 2000 the state of New York banned the use of Avitrol in cities with populations that exceed 1 million due to animal cruelty and public safety concerns.
The most common problem associated with pigeons and other birds is the abundance of unsightly droppings in residential housing areas, businesses and public places. However, the presence of pigeons and other birds is aesthetically pleasing to many city dwellers.
Thankfully, there are many effective long-term solutions that do not require killing. They include:
- Netting to exclude birds from structures.
- Balloons, holographic foil strips and other visual deterrents that scare unwanted birds away.
- Wood or metal fastened at a 60-degree or greater angle on ledges to prevent pigeons from perching. (They prefer a flat surface.)
- Bird wires to keep birds from landing on ledges, ranging from single-strand wires placed 3 to 4 inches above the rail of a ledge to a more complex wire coil that is wound around a railing or fixed on a ledge.
- Discouraging feeding in public places.
- A “hatch control” product called Ovocontrol P is now available for use on pigeons.
Born Free USA will continue to advocate for the humane treatment of birds and other wild animals. You can help by encouraging your community, friends and neighbors to do the same. Born Free USA offers a collection of co-existing with wildlife brochures.
And we also have model ordinances available to help you help wildlife in your community. Please contact us to find out more.
Let’s keep fighting for all wildlife — including the underdogs!