Pigeons must be mourning the death of Oscar Niemeyer, their greatest modern architect. He made a very stylish house for them in Brazil. New York Times reports his death today. He was 104.
Author Archives: Amy Youngs
A lovely public art project by Sarah Sze! These stylish birdhouses cluster on both sides of the elevated High Line walkway in New York city. Will birds move in? There is enticement in the food trays attached to the stainless steel bars. Fruit and seeds are regularly put into them and I did see a video of a bird eating there. Even though the modernist stainless steel bars do not seem very “natural”, I think birds might figure out that they are somewhat like branches, when they get inside the structure it would be hard for predators to swoop in and grab them. Human predators included.
More about the project on the High line website: http://www.thehighline.org/about/public-art/sze
In the New York Times review of summer public art:
Wow, it turns out pigeon poo in the air is not the only thing we need to worry about!
Recent research, published in Applied and environmental Microbiology, shows that the air in some Midwestern cities is populated by the same bacteria found in dog excrement. More from the article in Health Enclave: Your Dog’s Poop May Be Spreading Infections In The Air.
In the last post, “Enjoying the Interactive Wildlife” we looked at some of the benefits of sharing our cities with feral pigeons. This post is about the drawbacks: pigeon-related zoonoses, or the diseases common between us. From the standpoint of the pigeons, the benefits outweigh the risks, they love living around us because humans = ample food sources and good architecture for roosting. Humans however, do worry about catching diseases from animals like pigeons. The animal we catch the most diseases from are other humans, but we do need to be aware of the diseases associated with pigeons since they live with us in our cities too.
What we have learned so far is that the disease concerns around pigeons are focused on their droppings. New York City’s department of Health and Mental Hygiene puts out this informative fact sheet about the 3 health risks associated with pigeon droppings – in particular the cleaning of them – which they characterize as a small health risk.
1) Histoplasmosis – this is a disease caused by a fungus that grows in the soil and in concentrations of bird and bat droppings, which are high in nitrogen. It is a common disease – people living in places where the fungus grows naturally, such as the Ohio River Valley, are likely to have already had it, but not developed any symptoms. It is transmitted through airborne spores, not between people or animals. If symptoms develop, they are flu-like and include cough, headache, muscle aches, chills, shortness of breath. Mild cases go away without treatment, but severe cases need to be treated with anti-fungal medications. This disease can be very serious, even deadly, for people with compromised immune systems. More info.
2) Cryptococcosis – also a soil-dwelling, bird and bat dropping-loving fungus that can infect humans when they breathe in the spores. It is unlikely to get this infection, even by breathing in many spores. However, it is a concern because it can be very serious for people with weakened immune systems. It can even spread from the lungs into the brain and become deadly. 85% of Cryptococcosis patients are HIV-positive, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC recommends that we avoid disturbing any accumulations of bird or bat manure so spores do not get released. Another interesting recommendation with regards to this disease comes from PubMedHealth “Practice safe sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV and the infections associated with a weakened immune system.”
3) Psittacosis – a bacteria found in the droppings and nasal discharges in infected birds and spread through the air. It causes pneumonia-like symptoms and is sometimes called Parrot Fever because it infects mostly parrot-like birds. It is considered rare among humans and most of the reported cases are people who contracted it from pet birds. Pigeons can also get this disease and potentially spread it to humans through exposure to infected, dried droppings or respiratory secretions. I’m looking through the literature to see how often this happens. More on Psittacosis.
All three of these diseases are common to chickens and chicken manure.
And what about bird flu? Fortunately, that is one we don’t have to worry about with pigeons, as they have been found to be resistant to avian influenza.
Other things to be worried about? Maybe salmonella? Anything else? I’ll be continuing this pursuit of pigeon-related zoonoses and report back in a future post.
People might talk about pigeons as pests, but a recent visit to Venice, Italy revealed that this prevalent urban wildlife provides a constant stream of entertainment for kids, families, lovers, tourists and photographers. Everyone interacting with the pigeons out on the public squares was smiling and laughing. They walked around with outstretched, food-filled palms, calling for the pigeons to land on them. Pigeons appeared to enjoy the interaction too, devouring breadcrumbs and popcorn treats as they perched on the arms heads and shoulders of squealing people.
Even with all of the beautiful architecture to photograph in the public squares of Venice, there were more cameras pointed at pigeons and people.