Paris Hires Birds of Prey to Lead the Pigeon War

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Ah, the French.  They really know how to surprise you.  This time it doesn’t have anything to do with food, fashion or sex.  This time it’s about bringing in aerial Top Guns to fight a new war – the war on pigeons. And there are no holds barred.

The municipal government of the 10th district of Paris has hired five birds of prey, a team of three buzzards and two falcons, for a short-term contract of 10 days during the month of October.  This operation will cost the taxpayers 2500 euros a day (about $3000).  It’s a simple work contract with only one objective.

A bird of prey who might soon be a civil servant.
A bird of prey who might soon be a civil servant.

These vultures were hired to scare the pigeons away.  That’s it.  All they have to do is show up and screech; flap their wings; maybe insult the pigeons a bit and fly to Town Hall to collect their paycheck! Not a bad gig.

This isn’t the first time that professional raptors have been used to harass Parisian pigeons.  The Roland Garros Tennis Open has already called upon their services to ensure that there are no pigeon droppings on the clay courts during the renowned tournament. It is estimated that there are several thousand pigeons living in the nearby Bois de Boulogne, the woods that border the tennis courts. An experienced team of ten peregrine falcons were enough to keep those birds away.  These raptors can dive at a speed of up to 200 miles per hour. It’s a good thing they’re targeting pigeons and not people – otherwise a tennis “smash” would have a completely different meaning.

A master falconer and avian coach.
A master falconer and avian coach.

“Merlyn” is the name of the company that trains these birds of prey to chase away the gangs of pigeons that have taken over the ledges of social housing complexes near rue Buisson Saint-Louis in the 10th district of Paris.  The local authorities have tried traditional methods but they were ineffective.  “Merlyn” uses no chemicals and, in so doing, is politically correct.  The master falconer even came to a town meeting last week to introduce the Parisians to the scavengers who will be working for them (meaning the birds, of course).  It all seems so strange that in a country with a 9.6% unemployment rate, the focus is on employing animals and not humans.  However, when you see that the pigeon war costs the Parisians 150,000 euros annually (about $175,000), you can understand that something needs to be done.

I have a couple of questions about this avian operation.  First of all, is it guaranteed?  What happens if it doesn’t work?  Do the raptors give the money back?  Who’s going to ask them for it?  Secondly, isn’t this just displacing the problem?  I mean, really.  The birds of prey swoop in and disperse the pigeons in the 10th district.  Where do you think they will go?  To Belgium? No, they’ll go to a neighboring district where there are no flying falcons.  The pigeon problem won’t go away; it’ll just move slightly north, south, east or west but it’s still a Parisian problem.  A big one.

There are more than 80,000 pigeons in Paris – that’s one bird for every 25 inhabitants.  Though they were useful as messengers in World War I and II, messaging jobs have long been outsourced to high technology.  Now, they just spread disease and disrespectfully poop on the population.  But I think there is a solution that would work from the ground up.  This would involve the Parisians following rules, which is not an easy task.

You see, there is a law on the French books that prohibits pigeon feeding.  pigeon-feederIt is punishable with a fine up to 450 Euros ($485).  But the typical urban outlaw pigeon feeder, who probably thinks he is doing a good deed, doesn’t respect the law.  He or she will even sneak out at night to scatter a bread crumb breakfast for pigeons in public parks.  This practice encourages pigeon overcrowding, competition, aggression and perhaps even disease. Does he care about all that?  Not at all.  But now that the city is giving out work contracts to birds instead of people, he might give his nighttime habits a second thought.  For the good of the French economy.

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