I read an article in the paper today that took the form of a plea by a lady on behalf of her mother as to how to get rid of pigeons. The mother is a council house tenant in Glasgow who is troubled by pigeons roosting above her front door, with the consequent mess by droppings. It appears she has made contact with the council and environmental health department, who seem unable to help. ‘First
time she inquired the birds couldn’t be disturbed because they were nesting. Now they can’t be disturbed because they are roosting.’
In Animal Farm there is a famous line that ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ Wild birds are not dissimilar. All birds are protected, but some have more protection than others. The highest level of protection (in Scotland at least) is given to the golden eagle and white-tailed eagle. These two species must not, intentionally or recklessly, be disturbed while nesting. Their nests are protected at all times against being taken, destroyed or interfered with, and they must not at any time be harassed. Various levels of protection are given to other species of birds. At the higher level the red kite and hen harrier must not be harassed at any time, the Capercaillie must not, intentionally or recklessly, be disturbed when lekking and birds on Schedule I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act must not intentionally or recklessly be disturbed when nesting. The more common birds must not be prevented from accessing or using their nests, nor can their nests be damaged, destroyed or otherwise interfered with when in use or being built. It is also illegal to intentionally or reckless kill, injure or take any wild bird, attempt to do so or to knowingly cause or permit such acts. The lowly town feral pigeon is included in all of this.
There are nearly always exceptions in legislation. In the Glasgow lady’s case the exception relating to the pigeon comes from a general licence issued annually by the statutory nature conservation organisations. In Scotland licence GL03 issued by Scottish Natural Heritage allows authorised persons to kill or take certain birds for the preservation of public health, public safety and preventing the spread of disease. An authorised person might be the lady with the pigeons on her property or someone, such as a pest controller, acting on her behalf. If the pigeons were nesting at the time she would need to justify that there was a risk of disease, probably not too difficult in the circumstances, especially since pigeons can be carriers of the disease psittacosis.
I am not suggesting that all urban pigeons be culled or their nests or eggs destroyed; far better that remedial measures be taken, such as proofing their roosting or nesting area against entry and at a time before they start nesting. But this exemption exists in the form of an open general licence if required.
I’m a bit surprised that the organisations the lady had asked for assistance didn’t refer her to SNH or her local police wildlife crime officer for advice, or directly to a pest controller for a remedy. She can start dusting down her ladder now!