Pigeons face death, but are they the problem?



As Pismo Beach sits poised to begin trapping and killing the pier-dwelling pigeons that City Council members believe are responsible for polluting local ocean waters, one key scientist said he's not convinced they're the ultimate source of the problem.

Just weeks after banning people from feeding the birds, the council unanimously decided on July 19 to hire a pest control company to trap the birds.

According to Dennis Delzeit, Pismo Beach public works director, once the pigeons are caught they'll most likely be transported the Paso Robles-based Zoo to You where they would become food for the program's caged carnivorous creatures.

Yet the City Council has yet to determine if the bird's droppings are really responsible for lowering the nearby ocean water quality.

The council is working with a team of Cal Poly biologists to help scientifically confirm their claim that the birds' dung is the source of the problem. Leading the science squad is Chris Kitts, a Cal Poly professor of microbiology.

"Evidence at the moment seems that it could be pigeons," Kitts said of the potential cause of Pismo's ocean water pollution. "Whether they are the dominant source is yet to be seen."

During his research, Kitts had made some observations that point the source of pollution in a different direction.

"If you take all of the data that the health department has collected in order to give health advisories and you set them against the tide, you can determine the health advisories happen around spring tides," Kitts said. "However, this correlation doesn't tell you the biological source or what animals are contaminating the water. It tells you where the contamination is coming from, which is higher up on the beach. People poop could be a problem."

He said the scientists are putting a plan together and will begin sampling soon the effort is being funded through Proposition 50, a clean beaches initiative. By the end of 2007, they expect to have an idea of what the dominant sources of pollution are and by the end of 2008 they will have finished the study.

That determination, however, could be too late for many pigeons.

Trapping of the birds could begin as soon as next month, with the estimated $30,000 bill to be paid by city taxpayers. One of the companies being considered by the council is Clark Pest Control.

"There are a lot of pigeons down there, and this will put a sizeable dent in that amount," said Frank Giannico, a commercial salesman for the Santa Maria business.

Giannico said his company has previously had great success with trapping birds, but he couldn't ensure that the dilemma would go away.

"If they are only willing to spend $30,000, I am not going to guarantee their problem will be solved," he said.


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