Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rats with Wings

If you are one of the people who speaks of pigeons as rats with wings, you need to get a grip.  People often go about trumpeting the danger of disease that pigeons represent in an urban environment.

While it is true that if you spend time messing about with pigeon droppings you could possibly come down with something nasty, the fact of the matter is very very few people get sick from pigeons in the environment.  You are more likely to be struck by lightning than a pigeon-borne disease.

If you find yourself in the position of having to clean up a lot of dried pigeon poop, wear a dust mask and wash afterward.  Common sense is the key.

Picking up after your pet dog or scooping a cat's litter box can be hazardous too, but on the whole it's not considered a high-risk activity.  People catch many more diseases from pet dogs and cats than they do from pigeons, and how many people do you know of who have caught a disease from Fido or Fluffy?

Consider the following:

 On the subject of pigeons and disease, Dr. Nina Marano (an epidemiologist) states that “Pigeons are no more filthy than any other wild bird or animal,” while Dr. Arturo Casadevall (an expert in pigeon feces) states, “Pigeons are no different than other animals. When it comes to spreading disease, they don’t stand out.” Blechman, Andrew D. (2006). Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird. Grove Press, New York.

Mike Everett, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said, in The Big Issue Magazine, February 2001: “The whole ‘rats with wings’ thing is just emotive nonsense. There is no evidence to show that they (pigeons) spread disease.”

The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, when addressing the House of Lords in 2000 on the issue of intimate human contact with the then 7,000-8,000 pigeons feeding in Trafalgar Square, was asked if this represented a risk to human health. The Chief Veterinary Officer told The House that in his opinion it did not. 

Charlotte Donnelly, an American bird control expert told the Cincinnati Environment Advisory Council in her report to them: “The truth is that the vast majority of people are at little or no health risk from pigeons and probably have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than contracting a serious disease from pigeons.” 

Guy Merchant, Director of The Pigeon Control Advisory Service (PiCAS International) says, when talking about the transmission of disease by pigeons: “If we believed everything we read in the media about the health risks associated with pigeons, and the farcical propaganda distributed by the pest control industry, we would never leave our homes. The fact of the matter is that there is probably a greater risk to human health from eating intensively farmed supermarket chicken and eggs, or having contact with domestic pets such as cats, dogs and caged birds, than there is from contact with pigeons.” 

David A Palmer (B.V.Sc., M.R.C.V.S) said in an article entitled ‘Pigeon Lung Disease Fatality and Health Risk from Ferals’: “Obviously, since all these Allergic Extrinsic Alveolitis disease syndromes rely on the involved person having a very specific allergy before any disease, involving respiratory distress and very unusually death, can possibly be seen, it really makes absolute nonsense for a popular daily newspaper to suggest that pigeons present a health hazard and presumably need eliminating for the well-being of the nation’s health.” 

David Taylor BVMS FRCVS FZS: “In 50 years professional work as a veterinary surgeon I cannot recall one case of a zoonosis in a human that was related to pigeons. On the other hand I know of, and have seen, examples of human disease related to contact with dogs, cats, cattle, monkeys, sheep, camels, budgies, parrots, cockatoos, aquarium fish and even dolphins, on many occasions.” 

The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the New York City Department of Health, and the Arizona Department of Health all agree that diseases associated with pigeons present little risk to people. “We have never documented a pigeon to human transmission in the state of Arizona,” said Mira J Leslie, Arizona’s state public health veterinarian. 

Bird droppings can carry disease organisms.  Any bird droppings.  So why aren't robins "rats with wings"?  Or bluebirds?  Or peacocks?  Seems to me it's a case of familiarity breeds contempt.  There are lots of them so we must despise them.  And they shit.  So do robins, bluebirds and peacocks.  So do you, and the zillions of cows and chickens you eat.  And that's a fact that makes the sometime momentary inconvenience of pigeon poop on a park bench pale to paltry insignificance.  

All photos © Geonni Banner

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