Canada Should Employ ‘Pigeon Birth Control,’ Says Expert

May 8, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Pigeons rest on a trafic light in New York City
Pigeons congregate on a traffic light in New York City. A wildlife centre director says controlling reproduction is a more humane and more effective way of reducing pigeon populations than current forms of pest control. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

The best way to manage pigeon problems in Canada is to put the birds on “pigeon birth control,” says the director of an Alberta wildlife centre.

Carol Kelly, the executive director of Medicine River Wildlife Centre in Red Deer, says OvoControl, a new form of pigeon feed that controls reproduction in pigeons, is both more humane and more effective than current forms of pest control.

“OvoControl is proactive in that it reduces the number of pigeons,” she says. “The pigeons eat it, they eat it for a certain period of time and it makes their eggs not viable. There’s no hormones involved.”

Pigeons are known to breed rapidly—usually six times a year, at two eggs per clutch. Since OvoControl interferes with egg hatchability, it stops new birds from hatching and the population naturally declines.

Field studies of the contraceptive have shown a reduction in pigeon populations of approximately 50 percent annually and up to 88 percent over 28 months. Once the pigeons are taken off the feed, normal reproductive cycles return after a few months.

Currently, pigeon problems in Canada are largely handled by pest-control companies, which frequently use poisons, sticky glue, steel barbs, nets, and other repellants that can solve the problem in the short term.

But Kelly says these methods do not address the fundamental problem, because pigeons can easily find alternative areas in a city to nest and breed, which ensures their populations are maintained.

“OvoControl is proactive in that it reduces the number of pigeons in a humane, gentle way,” she says.

In Red Deer, the city uses an anti-flocking agent to control pigeon populations. Kelly says that although she doesn’t know the ingredients of the agent, it can be very traumatic for pigeons that ingest it.

“It disturbs the birds. It makes them feel uncomfortable. We’ve already had two or three pigeons brought in to us just this week that were found shaking and seizuring on the ground,” she explains.

“Some people will say, ‘Who cares, they’re only pigeons?’ But it’s still an animal, it still makes them very vulnerable to predators, or being run over by cars, and it doesn’t solve the problem. It just sends them somewhere else to breed.”

Contraceptive Widely Used in the US

Kelly says OvoControl is being used across the U.S. and is “getting rave reviews” for its effectiveness. She believes the next step is for a Canadian city or town to partner with them to bring the product to Canada under a research permit.

Once the basic research shows the product’s effectiveness, it can be registered in Canada.

“[OvoControl] certainly has been widely adopted across the States so I see no reason why we can’t work towards helping to get it here,” she says.

Erick Wolf, CEO of California-based Innolytics, LLC, the company that produces OvoControl, says they receive regular inquiries from Canada and getting it into the country is now just a matter of “regulatory priorities.”

In its developing stages, the product was actually once used on resident Canada geese, but Wolf says the company gave up on this species because the control and management of Canada geese is “highly political.”

“I can only speak for the U.S., but the hunting community, especially the state regulatory agencies, are adamantly opposed to the contraception of any huntable wildlife,” he says.

“The business of hunting does not make any money permitting contraception … and much prefers to sell hunting licences.”

He says although cities may be tempted to try and kill off a large number of pigeons to immediately control the problem, the only long-term solution is to control the number of pigeons being born in the first place.

“Increasing mortality in a pigeon population provides immediate and tangible effects—it is easy to understand a bag of dead pigeons. The effects, however, often represent an illusion,” he says.

“In contrast, contracepting the flock actually represents a sustainable, long-term solution—a method to bring down the population of birds through attrition without having them breed back immediately.”