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Pigeon Control Advisory Service
PiCAS International

Hercules House
4 George Street
PO12 4SY

Email: enquiries@picasuk.com

Skype: picas.uk

PiCAS is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 05206567 VAT No: 858 1204 26

Member of The Federation of Small Businesses

Skype PiCAS UK

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Lethal Bird Control (Culling)

The bird control services listed below are considered to be industry standard and are commonly recommended by commercial pest control contractors.

Poison Bait   Shooting
Cage Trapping   Bird of Prey   Case Study

Poison Bait

The use of poison bait (sometimes known as narcotic bait) is strictly controlled by DEFRA / Natural England in the UK and the criteria for its use is extremely strict.  A specific licence must be applied for in respect of each application and the only body that can approve and provide a licence is DEFRA or Natural England. Poison was used extensively throughout the UK in the 1960’s and 1970’s but due to the cruelty involved with its use licensing criteria became even stricter. Now it is rarely if ever used in the UK and Natural England confirmed to PiCAS, in late 2007, that few if any licences have been issued in the last 2-3 years. This is because the applicant must be able to demonstrate that the use of the poisoned bait will not cause unnecessary suffering to the target species. This is not possible, irrespective of how the poison is used.

The most common poison used for this purpose is a product called Avitrol, a poison which is used extensively in America. Even though America has extremely relaxed animal protection laws relative to the UK, its use is still highly controversial. Although the manufacturer suggests that the poison is a “chemical frightening agent” only, and that there will be “some mortality” associated with its use, in reality it is a mainstream poison that kills virtually every bird that takes the bait.

The target species is fed untreated grain in a secluded area for approximately 7 days and on the 8th day the untreated grain is substituted for grain treated with Avitrol. The client is told that the birds which have ingested the bait are then caught by the contractor and humanely killed; this is not the case. Once ingested the bait causes convulsions in the bird concerned and it dies a long and agonising death. The sight of a bird dying of Avitrol poisoning is a deeply distressing spectacle.

Not only does Avitrol kill the target species, it also has the potential for secondary poisoning. If a pigeon or gull that has been poisoned as part of a pest control operation is taken by a domestic cat or a protected bird of prey, the results can be lethal for the predator concerned. A good example of this is in the city of Melbourne, Australia where two established breeding pairs of peregrine falcons were poisoned having taken a poisoned pigeon that had ingested a product such as Avitrol (the peregrine is the natural predator of the pigeon). There was public outcry when these much-loved birds (and their young in the nest) died. This is the reality of poisons – they are indiscriminate. This barbaric method of control is inefficient and ineffective and should never be considered as a control option. Anybody that is offered this service by a pest control contractor should confirm that the contractor is bona fide and contact DEFRA or Natural England to confirm whether a licence application has been made. There are serious legal implications for anyone found using poisons without a licence. Further information on the legality of lethal controls and where and when they can be used can be found on The Law page.

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Shooting, as a method of control, is widely used by pest control contractors. Birds are usually shot at night in their roosting places and the ‘marksmen’ carrying out the task are often young and inexperienced. There is no legal requirement for operatives to undergo any formal firearms training before using high powered and potentially lethal air weapons. As it is almost impossible to kill a bird the size of a pigeon with an air rifle pellet a majority of the birds that are shot are merely wounded. Due to the inaccessibility of roosting/nesting sites it is virtually impossible to ‘dispatch’ wounded birds and as a result those birds are left to die a long and agonising death. If the injured birds return to their roosting sites to die, in a roof void of an occupied building for example, there can be serious health and safety issues for the property owner concerned as a result of rotting and stinking maggot-infested carcasses of dead birds. This is to say nothing of the humanitarian implications of leaving injured birds to die of gunshot wounds. It is not uncommon for property owners that use this service to find dead and dying pigeons in various areas of their property or site for days following a shoot.

This method of control is commonly recommended by pest control contractors as it is highly profitable. The client is normally told that once the birds have been shot and killed this will be the end of the problem; the reverse is the case. Any form of lethal control, particularly when used to control the pigeon, has been scientifically proven to increase pigeon flock size. Pigeon numbers will increase back to the pre-cull figure within a matter of weeks following a cull. Therefore the client is sold a worthless and expensive service and the pest control contractor will need to be called back in to undertake further shoots every 6-8 weeks indefinitely. See our Case Study below.

There are legal implications associated with the use of any type of lethal control. The pest control contractor concerned must operate within the strict criteria laid down by the General Licences, administered by the UK Government body DEFRA / Natural England. It is the client’s responsibility to ensure that the contractor is intimate with every aspect of the General Licences prior to the contractor undertaking any form of lethal control on their behalf. It is the property owner, not the contractor that will face prosecution if the service provided falls outside of the terms and conditions of the General Licence. Further information on the legality of lethal controls, and where and when they can be used, can be found on The Law page.

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Cage-Trapping and killing as a means of pigeon control is widespread. This method involves encouraging pigeons into a trap that is placed in their roosting or feeding area and that is either baited with a live bird or, more commonly, with grain. Once a certain number of birds have been trapped they are removed and killed. The birds are commonly killed either by gassing or neck dislocation by pliers. The traps are then re-set. Alternatively, where more sensitive clients are concerned, pest control contractors may suggest that the trapped birds can be removed and released elsewhere (see Case Study below). Although the client is led to believe that the trapped birds will be released to live another day, the reality is that they will be killed as soon as the pest controller leaves the site, or even when they are still on the site in some cases. Pest control contractors never release trapped birds, they are always destroyed. However, assuming that the trapped birds were released by the pest controller they would fly directly back to the site from which they had been removed, even if they had been taken several hundred miles away for release. This happened in the town of Bedford where the council brought in a pest control contractor to trap pigeons in the town centre. The trapped pigeons were then removed to an aviary where they were kept for six weeks, before being released some 250 miles away.  Each bird had a blue ring fitted to its leg so that any birds that did return to Bedford were immediately identified. Of the 80 pigeons that were trapped, over 70 returned.

It should be noted that pigeons will always return to their roost and therefore, no matter how far the birds are taken from their existing roosting site to be released, they will fly directly back to the roost from which they have been removed.

It is also the case that many of the more unscrupulous pest control contractors will tell the client that they are removing large numbers of pigeons from traps each day but in reality remove few if any. This was the case in a private residential development in Birmingham where residents became suspicious that their pest control contractor was not actually catching any pigeons in the 4 traps apparently provided on flat roof areas of the building concerned. PiCAS was brought in to carry out a survey of the building and found that instead of the 4 baited traps that were supposedly provided on the roof there was only one trap and this trap was not baited or set.

Although there is a legal requirement for anyone setting traps to inspect their traps every 24 hours, some pest control contractors fail to comply with this legislation and trapped birds are left to starve to death or die of exposure. This was the case when Westminster City Council contracted a pest control contractor to provide traps on flat roof areas of council-owned accommodation provided for the elderly.  Residents witnessed up to 30 birds being left in cage traps, with no food or water, for over 72 hours in searing temperatures.  Although in this case it was the pest control contractor that had broken the law, had a prosecution taken place it is likely that Westminster City Council would have been prosecuted, not the pest control contractor.

It should also be pointed out that if a breeding pair of birds is lured into a cage-trap their young in the nest will starve to death. This means that the decaying carcasses of these young birds are left to decompose and become maggot-infested causing far greater problems to the property owner than the original pair of pigeons had caused by their fouling. Clearly these issues, and indeed the humanitarian arguments, are never discussed with the client by their chosen pest control contractor.

Of all the methods of lethal pigeon control cage-trapping is far and away the most inefficient. After traps have been in situ for 2 weeks or more they will be avoided by the target species and therefore become redundant. Although all methods of lethal control are inefficient and ineffective, this method will always cost the client more than any other method.

There are legal implications associated with the use of any type of lethal control. The pest control contractor concerned must operate within the strict criteria laid down by the General Licences, administered by the UK Government body DEFRA / Natural England. It is the client’s responsibility to ensure that the contractor is intimate with every aspect of the General Licences prior to the contractor undertaking any form of lethal control on their behalf. It is the property owner, not the contractor that will face prosecution if the service provided falls outside of the terms and conditions of the General Licence. Further information on the legality of lethal controls, and where and when they can be used, can be found on The Law page.

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Flying a Bird of Prey (Hawk) as a Method of Control

The use of a bird of prey as a deterrent to scare pigeons and other bird species from their roosting/feeding sites is becoming more common.  Those that are experiencing problems with pigeons or other so-called pest species may perceive the use of a bird of prey as a ‘green’ and ‘natural’ method of control; it is neither of these things. Using one species of bird to kill another, particularly when the hawk concerned is not the natural predator of the target species, is clearly not natural. Falconry is a bloodsport where birds of prey are trained to kill other species of birds and animals for the pleasure of the human handler. The use of a bird of prey in a commercial bird control operation is no different; a bird of prey cannot be trained not to kill as it is a natural instinct in the bird to do so. Hawks used for commercial purposes constantly kill the target species and sometimes also kill other species of birds including protected species. In essence the client is paying for a highly controversial and completely ineffective method of control that can be the source of extremely negative publicity should the hawk decide to ‘go feral’.

A number of companies in the UK offer this service where birds of prey are flown in or around a specific building or site, on a regular basis and the client is told that the resident pigeon flock will move elsewhere to roost. In most cases the client is also told that an extensive culling operation is necessary in order to reduce pigeon numbers prior to flying a bird of prey. The theory is that once bird numbers reduce to an acceptable level (as a result of culling) the bird of prey will then be flown and will establish a territory, thereby ensuring that the target species does not re-occupy the area. In practice it is the culling operation that reduces pigeon numbers on the site (in the very short-term) and the flying of a bird of prey has no affect whatsoever on the surviving flock. The client, however, sees an initial reduction in pigeon numbers (as a result of the culling operation) and assumes that the £90-£150 per hour that they are being charged for flying the bird of prey is money well spent. However, pigeon numbers on the site then quickly increase above and beyond the pre-cull figure (normally within 4-6 weeks) and the client realises that the bird of prey is having little or no effect. Far from seeing a reduction in pigeon numbers they actually see an increase. This is because culling as a method of pigeon control has been scientifically proven to increase, not reduce, pigeon flock size. The client has simply been sold two very expensive and ineffective services.

Furthermore, most contractors use Harris Hawks as the favoured control option. The Harris Hawk is not the natural predator of the pigeon and is much slower in flight and therefore the bird poses no threat whatsoever. The Harris Hawk will, however, occasionally catch a juvenile, sick or injured pigeon during a control operation (as depicted below in Norwich City centre) but this is rare.  A Harris Hawk will never catch or deter a fit and healthy adult pigeon.

Flying a bird of prey is now being commonly offered as a means of deterring roof-nesting gulls and yet birds of prey are even less effective at scaring gulls than they are at scaring pigeons! Gulls will never be deterred by raptors during the breeding period and at any other time of the year the threat is equally benign. In fact gulls will commonly mob birds of prey and chase them away so once this is understood it becomes clear that no matter which species is used, and to what extent, it is far more likely that the gull represents a greater threat to the raptor than the reverse. Even so, councils like Bath and North East Somerset Council spend huge sums of taxpayer’s money attempting to scare roof-nesting gulls with commercial hawk handlers to no effect at all.

Most of the companies offering this service are simply falconers that are jumping on the pest control bandwagon, hoping to make a quick and easy profit. Many companies make fantastic claims about the effectiveness of their service, but if flying a bird of prey is an effective control in its own right why do companies then need to cull pigeons prior to using a raptor? Because a raptor will be completely ineffective as a stand-alone control.

A good example of how a client can suffer bad publicity as a result of using this method of control is the catastrophic public relations disaster that Nottingham City Council suffered in 1999 when employing a falconer to control pigeons in the city centre. The bird of prey used was seen attacking and ripping pigeons apart in broad daylight in front of children, tourists and residents of the city. The scheme received a massive amount of bad press and had no effect whatsoever on the pigeon population, yet the cost to the taxpayer was £5,000.  Had Nottingham City Council spent £5,000 on a sustainable PiCAS-approved city-wide control system the perceived pigeon problem in the city centre would have reduced dramatically and the system would still be working today, 9 years later.

Probably the most infamous public relations disaster is the continued use of Harris Hawks by the Greater London Authority in Trafalgar Square.  Ken Livingstone introduced this control measure in 2003 in an attempt to bolster failing efforts to reduce Trafalgar Square’s resident pigeon population by starvation.  As with Nottingham, the use of raptors in Trafalgar Square was condemned outright by the public as a complete waste of taxpayer’s money and an appalling spectacle for London’s visiting tourists.  Pigeons were, and still are by all accounts, regularly ripped to pieces by Harris Hawks in front of a stunned audience of visitors to the capital and Londoners who live and work in the city.

The following pictures* illustrate the reality of using a raptor as a method of bird control.  Not the ‘green and natural’ control many think it is!  In this case lunchtime shoppers were horrified and disgusted to see a bird of prey being used as part of a pest control operation in Norwich. The bird of prey was seen tearing a pigeon apart and then eating it alive in the city centre.  The pigeon was apparently alive for 10-15 minutes as the hawk consumed it.  Any property owner contracting this type of service as a method of bird control will inevitably suffer the worst possible publicity should scenes such as these be witnessed by the public and media whilst a hawk is being flown on their behalf and on their property.

Norwich City Council made the following statement:

A spokesman said: “The bird was definitely not a city council initiative and it is not something we would use.  We are looking at non-lethal methods of pigeon control, not ripping them to shreds in front of shoppers.”

These pictures were featured in an article in the Norwich Evening News on the 1st December 2005.

using a raptor as a method of bird control

* © Norwich Evening News

PiCAS would not, under any circumstances, recommend the use of a raptor to control any wild bird species. It is a completely ineffective and an extremely expensive control option where the contractor concerned is the only real beneficiary.

There are legal implications associated with the use of any type of lethal control. The pest control contractor concerned must operate within the strict criteria laid down by the General Licences, administered by the UK Government body DEFRA / Natural England. It is the client’s responsibility to ensure that the contractor is intimate with every aspect of the General Licences prior to the contractor undertaking any form of lethal control on their behalf. It is the property owner, not the contractor that will face prosecution if the service provided falls outside of the terms and conditions of the General Licence. Further information on the legality of lethal controls, and where and when they can be used, can be found on The Law page.

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Case Study

A recent example of how lethal pest control services fail to resolve the problem being experienced by the client, and can sometimes bring the client into disrepute, is the case of trapped pigeons at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum (RNSM) in Gosport, Hampshire in March 2008.

In 2007 the RNSM brought in a pest control contactor to advise on the control of pigeons that had accessed the hull of HMS Alliance, a submarine exhibit for the purposes of roosting and breeding. The contractor advised that a cull would be appropriate and undertook a pigeon shoot in 2007. The shooting operation was unsuccessful with pigeon numbers soaring again following the cull. Rentokil were then brought in to advise the client. Rentokil covered the hull of the submarine with nylon bird netting, a very expensive control option, entrapping live pigeons within it and placing baited cage-traps inside the hull of the craft. The intent was to encourage the trapped pigeons into the cage-traps and then dispose of them (the press statement suggested that the pigeons were to be released – this never happens in conventional pest control operations, trapped pigeons are always killed). The result was that distressed pigeons were seen throwing themselves at the nylon netting in an effort to escape the hull of the submarine. The PiCAS office, in Gosport, received numerous calls from deeply distressed members of the public that had witnessed the trapped pigeons desperately trying to escape.

The result was that the RSPCA were brought in to investigate allegations of cruelty on the part of the RNSM as a result of causing what is legally known as unnecessary suffering to the trapped birds (further information on bird control and the law can be found in the PiCAS document The Law). The BBC covered the story with a report on the BBC website along with photographs of the netted hull of the submarine. BBC TV also covered the story on BBC South Today and the story was covered by The Portsmouth Evening News and also appeared on their website. In short the RNSM received appalling press over the issue but their pest control contractor, Rentokil, was not even mentioned by the media. One cannot feel too much sympathy for the RNSM, however, as they had approached PiCAS prior to instructing Rentokil and were told that lethal control would be ineffective. The RNSM was also provided with a humane solution by PiCAS, free of charge due to their status, following lengthy discussions about the problem on the telephone. Instead the RNSM instructed a pest control contractor at considerable expense to the museum and with disastrous results. The RNSM is part-funded by donations and admission to the museum by the general public and therefore negative publicity of this type will inevitably have a serious effect on the public’s perception of the museum and almost certainly on visitor statistics and donations.

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Poison Bait   Shooting
Cage Trapping   Bird of Prey   Case Study
slideshow of images humane bird control Hampshire

The PiCAS Group will provide advice on the control of any bird species. Advice is most commonly sought for problems relating to the following:

Pigeon or Rock Dove: Pigeons are never more at home than when roosting and breeding on buildings in urban areas and as a result they are the most commonly controlled species of bird on the planet. Conventional pest control options such as lethal control has simply acted to increase pigeon numbers, not reduce them. The PiCAS Group has specialised in pigeon control for decades, researching and designing effective and sustainable pigeon control systems and as a result is now considered to be the foremost authority on the subject worldwide. PiCAS will provide advice on the protection of individual buildings and sites through to the provision of area-wide pigeon control systems for local authorities.

Gulls: Gulls have historically caused problems for property owners in towns and cities close to coastal areas but now many species of gull, including herring gulls, black headed gulls and black backed gulls are becoming common in many inland urban areas. These species are commonly known as roof-nesting gulls. Effective gull management systems are complex and to be effective they must be holistic and deal with the source of the problem as well as the problem itself. PiCAS will advise on all aspects of humane but effective gull control.

Ducks and Geese: Ducks and geese are a growing problem throughout the UK in villages, towns and even city parks with deliberate and persistent feeding of the birds being the root cause of the problem. Duck control and goose control is never straightforward and can be a highly public and emotive issue. PiCAS has extensive experience of providing humane but effective duck and goose management systems for councils, property owners and site managers throughout the UK.

Canada Geese: This species is starting to cause major problems for property owners and site managers throughout the UK. As with most waterfowl controls, Canada goose control systems are complex and must be holistic. PiCAS has extensive experience of controlling Canada goose populations, whether they be static or migratory, and will tailor a Canada goose control programme to the specific needs of the client.

Starlings and Sparrows: Although starlings were a common problem in town and city centres worldwide during the 1960’s and 1970’s, fewer problems are now being reported. However, where starlings do roost in large numbers problems can be extreme and PiCAS will provide any property owner with a tailor-made starling control system.

Sparrow populations are in rapid decline and as a result fewer sparrow-related problems are being reported. Sparrows do sometimes cause problems in food production plants and food preparation facilities however. Sparrow control is rarely simple or straightforward due to the fact that these small birds can easily access roof voids or internal areas due to their size. PiCAS will provide advice on humane but effective sparrow control.

Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves: These species are more complex to control and are more commonly associated with rural areas. Both species are now becoming more common in urban areas where they can cause problems for residential property owners. Control options for these species are limited but PiCAS will offer advice where both wood pigeon control and collared dove control is concerned.

Rook, Magpie, Jackdaw and Hooded Crow (Corvids): These species commonly cause problems in both urban and rural areas and can be complex to control. Rook control and Crow control options are usually limited to rural areas where they are perceived to cause crop damage and predate on livestock in the case of crows, but nuisance is exaggerated. Rooks often breed in rookeries and can cause significant disturbance as a result of noise. Magpie control is more commonly sought in urban areas due to their growing presence in domestic gardens as a result of persecution in rural areas. Jackdaws rarely cause problems other than nesting in chimney pots and therefore jackdaw control is extremely straightforward. All members of the Corvid family can be controlled effectively using non-lethal and holistic controls.

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