It’s hard to imagine a film set in London that doesn’t have an establishing shot of the pigeons in Trafalgar Square taking off to reveal that there is a statue or two in there as well. Equally difficult is the mental picture of said square without an old person dressed in a sack selling little packets of seed to tourists keen to re-enact a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds for the family holiday video.
London mayor Ken Livingstone has never liked pigeons. He calls them ‘rats with wings’. Since he came into office six years ago he has been determined to rid the square of the greatest airborne menace London has faced since the Luftwaffe. Ken’s war on guano has seen the pigeon population dwindle from 3,500 to just 1,000. I can’t stand pigeons. I hate their horrid little club feet and stupid mating dance. Being shat on from a great height is not my favourite thing either, especially when it comes from a species a good many rungs down on the food chain from me.
Ken’s opening salvo was to withdraw the licences of the old people in sacks who sold the bird seed. This had rather frightening consequences as the thought of pigeons lying dead from starvation everywhere was possibly worse than having them shit on you. A counter strategy was quickly conceived by animal activists who formed a feeding rota. The strategy was further undermined by the sudden proliferation of Tesco Metros selling inedible sandwiches which tourists found they could toss to pigeons on their way to Wagamama.
A new plan was needed. When you’ve got a population that’s out of control, you hire yourself some serious muscle. Following a rigorous selection process, Ken engaged a couple of Harris Hawks, the closest ornithology comes to an actual dalek. But it seems that this pair of top guns has exceeded their remit. They were only supposed to ‘menace’ the pigeons and frighten them away but they have, to date, killed some 121 birds.
It is difficult to imagine how you communicate to a hawk the boundaries of their authority. It does not seem to work with police officers or bailiffs or social workers, which I am sure these Harris Hawks will argue at their employment tribunal if it comes to that. They at least will be able to provide documentary evidence that they are genetically bird-brained. Police officers and social workers have to rely on anecdotal evidence for this, although it is usually substantial.
Like a lot of ‘loose cannon’ hirelings, these ‘pest control consultants’ come at a high price. The bill for this initiative tallies £226,000 already. At a cost of £90 for each ‘disappeared’ pigeon it can only be a matter of time before pigeon pie starts turning up on Gordon Ramsey’s menus as a high priced delicacy. Also of concern is the growing lobby from the families of the ‘disappeared’ who have started posting pictures of their missing relatives on Nelson’s Column. Observers are speculating that Ken could be facing the biggest controversy in a career dogged by recent accusations of prejudice.
Animal activists are calling for a greater awareness of the plight of the city’s pigeons. ‘Pigeons are citizens too’, a spokesperson for the lobby group Free the Skies, said. Legislation is being considered which will make it an offence to run up to a group of pigeons waving your arms about or to refer to anyone as ‘pigeon-toed’.
In the light of growing concern about the working practices of the Harris Hawks, it is believed Ken is looking at alternatives. Under consideration is a programme of contraception in which pigeons will be given tiny condoms especially manufactured and supplied free of charge by Richard Branson who is thought to be sick of cleaning pigeon shit off his hot air balloon. Pigeons who join the contraception programme will be rewarded with miniature wind-up radios. A special edition of Spring Watch is planned which will follow several families of pigeons undergoing counselling to assist them to alter their sexual behaviour.
There is just one note of caution that should not be missed. Often when a pest is eliminated it makes room for a bigger pest. It should be treated as serious that Tony Soprano was seen in Trafalgar Square last week making notes. If he takes over he won’t be content with just your Tesco sandwiches, he will want your double espresso too.