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Nets. Spikes. A gel with hot pepper. The International Market Place in Honolulu’s Waikiki had tried them all, and still pedestrians at the open air mall dodged swooping pigeons, while customers dining under sunny skies had their meals ruined by droppings.
So when manager Reid Sasaki heard about OvoControl, a contraceptive-laced food that reduces pigeon numbers by half in a year, he was willing to try it, even if the results wouldn’t be immediately evident.
Encouraged by HSUS Hawaii state director Inga Gibson, in 2011 he invested in $200 solar-powered automatic feeders and in pellets that treat 100 pigeons for about $9 a day. In a little more than 12 months, the number of pigeons hanging around the stalls of puka shell necklaces, leis, and oil paintings of palm trees and surf decreased by 60 percent.
Now, after getting required permits from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, OvoControl is on the verge of being adopted by other major businesses in Waikiki, where pigeons flourish around hotel patios, beachside parks, and outdoor buffets, fed by well-meaning tourists who flock to the region’s white sands and turquoise waters.
“It’s a health problem. … It’s a huge financial burden,” says Michael Botha, president of Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions, which is introducing OvoControl to clients in Waikiki, where pigeons rank with bedbugs as an image problem. Businesses are desperate after being cited by the health department or refunding the cost of a dozen pigeon-spoiled meals in a day.
Pigeons on OvoControl lay infertile eggs but continue to roost and nest, keeping other flocks from moving in. Botha notes that it’s the only way to manage pigeons in Hawaii, where the birds normally reproduce four to six times per year and have no natural predators.
Adds Erick Wolf, CEO of Innolytics, which developed and markets the contraceptive: “It really doesn’t matter how much you trap and poison and shoot. They breed back.”
Still, it can be a tough sell, as businesses want immediate results. Waikiki hotels also worry their investment will provide a cost-free benefit to competing hotels nearby. Since receiving the required EPA registration in 2008, Wolf has sold OvoControl to just 200 sites across the U.S.
One of those is downtown St. Paul, Minn., where pigeons were multiplying unchecked after public opinion forced the city to abandon a previous program. During the 1980s, the city had netted thousands of birds and turned them over to hunters for pigeon shoots, outraging animal welfare advocates. The city got letters from all over the world.
The mayor ordered a moratorium, and for almost 20 years St. Paul left pigeon control to private citizens. “A lot of people would call and complain,” says animal control supervisor Bill Stephenson. “All we would say is, ‘We don’t do it.’”
But in 2007, city officials asked Stephenson to look for another way to reduce the number of birds. Wolf offered OvoControl. Stephenson was skeptical, but tried it out in one location. The contraceptive delivered as advertised: A flock of 20 pigeons dropped to nine birds within a year.
So in 2010, St. Paul adopted OvoControl. With a small tax imposed on downtown property owners, the city purchased 12 feeders and established a fund to buy the bait; seven feeders have been installed so far. Building maintenance staff fill them and monitor pigeons. Bird numbers have dropped from 200 to 50, estimates Stephenson, who’s trying to get the rest of the feeders installed around the site of the city’s new baseball stadium.
In Waikiki, Gibson is recruiting other businesses, and The HSUS has also created a pledge businesses can make promising to use OvoControl, as well as free signs they can post asking people not to feed birds.
“There are so many pigeons, and they get killed in such inhumane ways,” Gibson says. “OvoControl is a win-win for all.”