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USDA helps rid Strasburg of pigeons

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg may see an end to its pervasive pigeon problem.

The town partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture late last year in an effort to reduce the pigeon population through the use of traps. Town Manager Judson Rex said Friday the strategy seems to work.

"Residents, businesses, especially in downtown, have complained about the nuisance and impacts created by the invasive species, and that's really what they are, is an invasive species, like rats or bats," Rex said. "They're certainly not native to the area and so we kind of have to deal with them in a similar way to how we would other types of invasive species."

Roughly 180 to 200 birds have been trapped and euthanized by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service since the program began in late January, Scott Barras, state director of the USDA Wildlife Services Program, said Friday from the agency office in Richmond. Barras added that the catch rate appears on the decline, indicating some progress with the effort.

Pigeons are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Barras noted. This allows the agency as well as property owners and private pest-control companies to take steps to removing or deterring pigeons.

"Human-wildlife conflicts are very common so we have situations with invasive species like pigeons on a regular basis," Barras said.

Strasburg officials learned late last year that the federal agency runs a program aimed at helping municipalities combat pigeons. Strasburg entered into a contract with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to trap pigeons. The town paid $3,500 for its share of the cost of the federally subsidized program. The traps come with water and food for the birds and are checked daily, Rex said.

"The pigeons in the trap are carefully removed and humanely euthanized using techniques approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association by the USDA," Rex said. "Usually the pigeons are in there for about four to seven days before they go in and euthanize them. It just depends on how many are captured during that time."

Town officials also learned from the USDA that pigeons compete with native bird species for food. High pigeon population likely means fewer types of native birds, Rex said.

"In the past, the town has spent quite a bit of money cleaning up pigeon feces in public areas, especially on our sidewalks downtown," Rex said. "In addition to trying to remove the nuisance, we're also looking for a way to reduce this clean-up cost on the sidewalks."

Pigeons and their excrement can carry dozens of diseases, some of which can spread to livestock and humans.

Over the years, Strasburg leaders and staff and local groups such as Hometown Strasburg, worked together to find a way to fix the pigeon problem, but no viable solution emerged.

The new effort has proven successful so far, Rex said. Town officials have noticed a significant decrease in the local pigeon population. Officials learned from the USDA that the number of birds trapped continues to drop, indicating fewer birds in the area.

"What we've noticed the most since we've done the program is that we're getting fewer calls, actually no calls so far this summer for the public works guys to go out and clean the sidewalks," Rex said.

The town may be able to stop the program if the population continues to decline, Rex said. The federal agency also benefits from the program by reducing the non-native species.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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