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Speaking pigeon: Birds are a problem, Grass Valley has a solution

One of Grass Valley’s nuisance pigeons roosts within a cage with a one-way entrance earlier this month atop Mill Street’s Yuba Blue store. This trap-and-relocate method is one of the tactics the city is doing to abate the issue for downtown’s merchants.
Photo: Elias Funez

It turns out pigeons — though docile, sweet, and some might say beautiful — have turned into a problem for Grass Valley business owners.

Joy Porter of the Downtown Grass Valley Association said that many merchants and customers alike have complained time and again about the presence of, well, bird fecal matter.

“They’ve been around for a long time,” said Porter. “I can’t remember them not being downtown. But the numbers in the last few years — and maybe COVID has something to do with that — there weren’t as many people coming out, so it was safer for them. It’s always been an issue. This is a problem nationwide, not just in Grass Valley.

“With the Downtown Grass Valley Association one of the things we kept hearing was, ‘What can we do about the pigeons? We are so tired of complaining about them.’

“So we were like, ‘Okay, we’re listening,” Porter explained. “We did a bunch of research on pigeons and we talked to the city and we went online and we found a company called West Coast Falconry.”

West Coast Falconry is an organization founded and owned by Kate Marden. The group has placed cages on the tops of several downtown buildings, where they are humanely kept and collected by Marden every couple of days.


One such business that hosts one of the pigeon cages is Yuba Blue.

Store owner Lillie Piland, who also is the chairperson of the Downtown Grass Valley Association, said the problem has been ongoing for a few years but has progressively gotten worse.

“As pigeons nest, they create more pigeons,” said Piland, “and so one of the ways to combat them are to put spikes up. Well, it was great because I didn’t have the pigeon poop problem anymore, but the pigeons just moved down the street in either direction.”

Not all businesses on the street can place spikes on their businesses, so the decision was made by the association to allot some of its budget to hire Marden’s company.

“We knew there was a problem in this general area,” she continued. “You can’t (put them) on a pitched roof.”

She praised Marden and her efforts: “It’s been fascinating getting to know Kate. She’s amazing.”

A bird trap gives pigeons a one-way ticket 100 miles away from Grass Valley after they are transported there by vehicle. The cage sits atop Mill Street’s Yuba Blue, where many of the pigeons like to congregate.
Photo: Elias Funez

Marden’s number one goal is to make sure that all of the birds are treated well, and her main tactic is to rehome them at least 100 miles away; far enough that they won’t immediately migrate back to the area, where their instincts tell them to go.

“Pigeons are an invasive, non-native bird that carry a raft of diseases,” Marden said. “As many as 60 (diseases) are communicable to humans, though they are rarely fatal.”

Marden added that pigeons have a strong homing instinct, and about twice a month during her travels she releases the trapped pigeons. They are banded with a plastic anklet so they can monitor the birds, making sure they are far enough away.

“I have been fascinated with birds most of my life and have many different types of pet birds,” she said. “I became a licensed falconer in 1998 and started my business in 2005. My primary focus is falconry and raptor education; the abatement work helps to make ends meet.

“It takes some time to eliminate a population, if ever. Food waste on the ground and feeding the pigeons reinforces their sticking around. Lastly, if you are cleaning up pigeon waste, do a wet clean up. Cleaning dry feces makes the infectious spores airborne; wearing a mask is a good idea whenever you are cleaning up after pigeons.

“Pigeon trapping is an ongoing endeavor.”

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at jnobles@theunion.com


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