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February 12, 2013

Planned Pigeonhood: Birdie Birth Control for Hawaiian Pigeon Problem

Contraceptive-laced food keeps flock numbers down

All Animals magazine, March/April 2013

  • With no natural predators in Waikiki, pigeons are a costly problem to businesses. Eugene Tanner/For The HSUS

by Karen E. Lange

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, and even if he would be among the first adopters in Hawaii.

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 over 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 if they invest in the product it will provide a cost-free benefit to neighboring competitors. Since receiving the required EPA registration in 2008, Wolf has sold OvoControl to just 200 sites across the U.S.

Gibson is recruiting other businesses in Waikiki. 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.”

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