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Hollywood turns to birth control in cleaning up its (pigeons') act

July 30, 2007|Francisco Vara-Orta | Times Staff Writer

Eager to reduce the neighborhood pigeon population and the mess that comes with it, Hollywood residents appear ready to try a new birth control method on their wild birds.

Beginning within the next couple of months, a substance called OvoControl P will be placed in kibble in new rooftop feeders, say residents and state and local officials. The substance, which interferes with egg development, generally is viewed as a humane way to lower the birthrate of the birds, which many residents consider a nuisance.

"We clean doo-doo all the time and are proud of it," said Laura Dodson, president of the Argyle Civic Assn., the Hollywood group leading the effort to try the new contraceptive. "But our streets are getting bombarded by the poop way too much."

In addition, pigeons could put a damper on a long-planned $80,000 landscape project for the traffic island at Argyle Avenue and Yucca Street, which many local residents consider a gateway to the neighborhood, according to association members.

Pigeon overpopulation affects humans because the birds roost on utility lines, tree branches and elsewhere, depositing their droppings on cars, buildings and sidewalks, residents and officials said.

Members of the civic association, Los Angeles city officials and representatives of the company that developed the substance plan to announce today that Hollywood will be the first place in the state to try OvoControl P. Supporters of the plan include the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which favor the contraceptive over electric shock gates, spiked rooftops, fatal poisons or other mitigation methods.

"One of the most common complaints we get about urban animals is how to control pigeons," said Stephanie Boyles, lead wildlife biologist for PETA.

Maggie Brasted, director of urban wildlife conflict resolution for the Humane Society, said contraception is acceptable in dealing with large pigeon populations.

"Some animal lovers say wild animals should be left alone and human interaction with them should be limited to an extent," Brasted said. "We see that point and we wish that could be the case, but in taking a pragmatic stance, we would much rather they use contraception than poison or anything harmful."

OvoControl P has been registered with the state Department of Pesticide Regulation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Developed by Rancho Santa Fe-based Innolytics, the substance contains nicarbazin, which interferes with an egg's ability to develop or hatch, said Erick Wolf, Innolytics chief executive.

Pigeons have a life expectancy of three or four years in urban settings, Boyles said. The birds breed year-round and can produce four or five broods a year.

Dodson said her neighborhood had at least 5,000 pigeons, based on a 2006 study her association conducted counting how much bird seed was distributed and consumed in the area. Population estimates are difficult to obtain because pigeons move around and may hide in city structures, Brasted said.

Wolf said the OvoControl P costs $4.88 a pound, roughly $6 a day per 100 pigeons. The initial year's cost is expected to be about $60,000, including food, payment to pest control workers to distribute the food, bird feeders and a mandatory report to the EPA on the pilot program, officials said.

Dodson said the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has committed to pay $1,000 in September but is still lobbying business improvement districts in the area to pick up the tab for the next few years. The Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District has pledged $5,000, said Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, a nonprofit group that oversees the district.

The pilot program is expected to show results within a year, and the Hollywood area's pigeon population is expected to shrink by at least 50% by 2012, Dodson said.

After that, the civic association will reassess who will oversee and fund the program, possibly turning it over to the city.

The overpopulation, Dodson said, happened in part because of people feeding the birds in an area stretching from the Dix Street-Argyle Avenue area south to the neighborhood around Vine Street and Melrose Avenue.

One of the feeders, a woman known as the Bird Lady, gained notoriety after city officials and neighborhood groups pleaded last year for her to stop dumping 25-pound bags of seed in 29 spots around Hollywood.

"Our calculations showed that approximately 112 tons of bird seed were being dumped onto Hollywood streets annually, which translates to a staggering amount of pigeon poop," Dodson said.

The Bird Lady and her flock of feeders sparked debate over whether to extend a pigeon feeding ban, enacted in 1985, that forbids the feeding of birds downtown Los Angeles, between 1st and 8th streets and Main and Figueroa streets.

"The core thing with pigeons is not to feed them," the Humane Society's Brasted said. "What is leading to the overpopulation is the feeding, which then, of course, leads to pooping and the 'yuck' factor."

francisco.varaorta@latimes.com

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