Pigeons can't fend for themselves


To the editor:

(re: “Proposed ban on wildlife feeding earns jeers,” March 28)

Thank you for covering the rally organized by Bronx Animal Rights to reject the proposed ban on feeding pigeons and squirrels in New York City parks.

Blaming the feeding of pigeons or squirrels on the rat population in New York City is an easy and completely false scapegoating to take attention away from the true culprit — our ever-shrinking parks budget.

This is not about pigeons or squirrels. It is about the alarming trend toward saving money at the expense of sacrificing quality of life for the people who live here. Recently, the city’s parks department announced a cut of more than $700 million for 2019. While earlier parks budgets averaged about 5 percent of the total city budget, over a period of the last 40 years, the percentage is now an anemic 0.019 percent.

Less money means less attention to parks management — like educating people on what they can offer the birds and squirrels, as well as lack of enough park enforcement police (there are 40 citywide) who could educate people on what they can and cannot feed, as well as remind them to clean up. Less public money has driven our parks to form partnerships with organizations who stage ear-splitting events in our parks that generate tons of refuse and garbage, which of course do attract rats.

It is infuriating that the parks department has issued a statement that “birds can fend for themselves” in New York City, which has little or no grounding in the complexity of the wildlife population that live here. Pigeons, for example, are not insect-eating birds. In fact, they are strictly seed eaters.

Originally brought to North America from Europe, Columba livia is their correct name, which translates to “rock dove.” This is not their native habitat, so they cannot “fend for themselves.”

Bred for racing and possessing barrel chests, pigeons give the illusion of being “plump,” when actually they are starving. Thank you, parks department, for your “fend for themselves” rhetoric. It is historically and factually incorrect.

Instead of proposing new programs which would provide clean water, manage appropriate feeding, and nurture our precious and diverse wildlife, the city is doing its best to obliterate it. Simple fruit- and seed-bearing trees could be planted and landscaped into their habitats. Other solutions are available.

I have an early 1970s Prospect Park sign. It has the drawing of a bird who says, “Bread is bad for me. It will make me sick. Oatmeal or plain unsalted popcorn would be tasty!”

That generosity of spirit was alive in the 1970s, and there is no good reason for its demise. No one should be forced to go to the park with sunglasses and hidden bags of peanuts, looking over their shoulders for the feed police.

Johanna Clearfield

The author is director of Urban Wildlife Coalition-NYC.

Johanna Clearfield,