Zoonoses, problems with pigeon-human proximity

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.

People, statues and pigeons in Amsterdam

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.

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Enjoying the Interactive Wildlife

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.

Playing with pigeons at Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy

Couple having their photo taken with pigeons

Even with all of the beautiful architecture to photograph in the public squares of Venice, there were more cameras pointed at pigeons and people.

Cameras, pigeons and people

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Getting to the meat: The Pigeon Relocation and Management Project

We’re accepting applications  for participation in the PIGEON RELOCATION AND MANAGEMENT PROJECT funded by an Ohio State University Faculty Research Enhancement Grant.  Using the only effective, safe and humane  deterrent system recommended by the Pigeon Control Advisory Service, selected pigeons will be discouraged from roosting in unwanted areas.

Pigeons nesting where you don’t want them?  Are you a Coshocton, Ohio resident? Fill out our form to enter your pigeons.  Pigeon Relocation Application Form

After 71 years of use as a public building, first as the Coshocton YWCA, then as the Maria Hay Forbes Center, the J. P. Forbes House was demolished in early 2011.

In the fall of 2008 there were 364 pigeons that alternately sat on the roof of the Maria Hay Forbes Center and the electric lines passing over the radio station. (High school students counted them as part of a collaborative project with the Pomerene Center for the Arts. view video)  Since the demolition of the Maria Hay Forbes Center and its pigeon friendly tower and ample eave returns, where have all those pigeons gone?

We’re interested in learning where the pigeons have relocated. In turn, we are proposing to relocate 10 pairs from these current environments (where they are presumably unwanted) to the old PARK hotel spacewhere they can be managed. We think in terms of deviating from the Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny prototype of human/ animal relationships and ask…Doesn’t Elmer always lose? Aren’t we always on the side of the cwazy wabbit? Can we re-imagine how we fit into our environment?

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The effects of pigeon cooing on the human mind

Crop milk production in pigeons is stimulated by the hormone prolactin. (This is the same hormone that stimulates milk production in mammals.) Interestingly, prolactin  produces an overall calming effect. Which fact leads neatly to a discussion of ‘calming’ and the effects of pigeon cooing on the human mind.

Predicated on the hypothesis that the human mind is pleasantly relaxed by the sound of pigeon cooing, we imagine the following experiment.

A range of volunteers, outfitted with electro-caps, is subjected to alternate recordings of circus music and pigeons cooing in the park.  Brain activity is recorded. The simplicity of the data imaging is humble, especially when juxtaposed against the spectacular imaging techniques driving today’s science. However simple, we find it illustrates the point.

To deepen our understandings, we ask you take the time to complete the brief survey below.

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Can’t Eliminate an Invasive Species? Try Eating It. – NYTimes.com

Can’t Eliminate an Invasive Species? Try Eating It. – NYTimes.com.

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Wonder

As per post below – Check out this photo of Mike Tyson.

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Pigeon Milk, the wonder food

10 day old squab on a building ledge in New York City - image by Cutiepie Company

Lucky chubby squab. Fed the wonder food of Pigeon milk, they can double their size in 48 hours. In the book Pigeon, Barbara Allen also reports that, “Pigeon milk fuels what is one of the most explosive growth rates of almost any creature on earth”.  I’d like my next protein shake to be made of pigeon milk.

How to milk them? Fortunately, both the parent pigeons secrete the milk from their crops, which is located where the breast is. No nipples though, they use their throats like straws in reverse and their beaks serve as the delivery point into the mouths of their squab. So, I’m imagining a mechanical squab head bobbing around in the nest which is designed to accept the milk from the parent. This does sound ridiculous at first, but robotic cow milking machines are doing the same thing: mechanically milking an animal so humans can enjoy the nutritious results. Do check out this video of a robot milker in action on YouTube.  Pigeon milk might take longer to get, but it has more protein and fat than cow or human milk, so perhaps it would be worthwhile? [I can’t help but think of that recent, viral story about breast milk ice cream]. Thinking through the oddities of milking animals is enough to cause me to ask for almond milk in my next protein shake.

Breast milk ice cream on sale at a London ice cream parlour. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

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