Thursday, December 7, 2006

Efforts to shoo away pigeons spur flap at courthouse

By Kevin Deutsch
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
WEST PALM BEACH — If Marvin the Falcon becomes more picky about his prey, you can blame the hallucinogenic corn.
For 10 years, pest control workers have fed the pesky pigeons that roost on the courthouse roof kernels of corn mixed with a hallucinogenic agent designed to scare them away.
The drug debate
Avitrol repels birds by affecting a few members of a flock, causing them to flap their wings, vocalize and convulse.
Their distress signals other birds to leave the site.
Audubon Society officials have said Avitrol can cause the deaths of birds of prey if they ingest carcasses of affected birds.
Some courthouse workers are worried the chemical could hurt or even kill Marvin, a pigeon-eating peregrine falcon that has become the "mascot" of the courthouse's 11th floor.
"He's such a beautiful bird, and I'm hoping it won't affect him," said Rick Hussey, the court operations manager. "He's about a foot tall, and bulky. He gets real close, stays up there all day hunting for pigeons and different things. It's such a nice sight to see, especially at work. We don't want to lose him."
Some call the falcon Marvin in honor of the late Judge Marvin Mounts, whose old courtroom is closest to the 11th-floor ledge where the falcon resides. Marvin occasionally leaves behind a pigeon carcass or two, Hussey said, and his eating exploits commonly draw crowds that include courthouse deputies, a bailiff and Judge Edward Garrison.
"We're all fans of his," Hussey said. "If he eats pigeons who eat this stuff, what happens to him?"
The chemically laced feed is put on the courthouse rooftop once a month. It has reduced the number of "nuisance" pigeons known to leave droppings and attract rats, said Horst Haeusser, facilities manager at the downtown governmental center.
Haeusser said he thinks the corn is treated with 4-Aminopyridine, commonly marketed as Avitrol, which has been banned in several cities. Officials with Avitrol Corp. could not be reached for comment.
The use of Avitrol has drawn criticism from bird advocates. Avitrol-treated corn bait affects a few members of a flock, and their distress signals other birds to leave the site.
Birds that react and alarm a flock usually die, and other wildlife feeding on the corn also may be killed, the product label says.
Audubon Society officials have said Avitrol can cause the deaths of birds of prey - including peregrine falcons - if they ingest carcasses of birds that consumed it.
Haeusser said his department contracts with Tomasello Pest Control to put the corn on the rooftop of the courthouse.
"We've looked at it, and it's safe as far as we can tell," Haeusser said. "It's really just to scare the birds away. We do have pigeons that roost there, but we're trying to keep the numbers down."
Haeusser has noticed the falcon and always thought the pigeon remains he had seen on the roof were the work of Marvin, not the hallucinogenic agent.
"We're not trying to hurt the falcon," Haeusser said. "We're all for him."
When the pigeon problem arose a decade ago, other deterrents, including metal spikes, were tried with little success. The hallucinogenic corn was the "only one that really worked," Haeusser said.
Haeusser says his department has no plans to discontinue its use.
"I just hope they consider that bird," Hussey said. "I would hate to see him go away."

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