Pismo Beach pigeons met with pier blocks

Instead of netting, which could trap some birds, the city will obstruct roosting areas on the underside of the pier with blocks of wood; bird numbers appear reduced

clambert@thetribunenews.comFebruary 10, 2012 

JAYSON MELLOM — jmellom@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Pismo Beach officials are continuing their efforts to get a flock of pigeons to move on and roost elsewhere.

Pigeons living under the Pismo Beach Pier, which at one point numbered more than 450, have been blamed for water quality problems in the immediate ocean and nearby beach.

The City Council this week approved spending $100,000 on the second phase of a plan to reduce the pigeon population. The first phase, completed last year, blocked some of the nesting sites while repair work was conducted on the pier.

Though poor water quality tests have plagued Pismo Beach for several years, local officials are optimistic that their plans to obstruct roosting areas with blocks of wood will turn the tide.

“It is going to take some time,” said Public Works Director Dwayne Chisam.

While some birds have moved to areas still accessible to them under the pier, there appears to be a reduced number, he said. City staff is still analyzing data from the county environmental health services’ ocean water sampling to see whether the work has made an impact.

If the latest plans don’t work, there are always other options: using predatory birds to reduce the population, or hand-feeding the pigeons birth control pellets.

In 2007, the council voted to hire a pest-control firm to trap and kill the pigeons, but it changed its mind after protests from the public.

Pismo Beach officials have been trying to improve water quality along their stretch of ocean for several years.

The ocean at the pier has routinely received low grades from the Los Angeles-based group Heal the Bay. Last year, the group’s annual report card found the beach just south of the pier had the county’s worst water quality.

But recent test results are “trending better since they’ve been working to eliminate some of the pigeons,” said Richard Lichtenfels, county supervising environmental health specialist.

In 2010, the results of a three-year study by Cal Poly’s Environmental Biotechnology Institute suggest the birds were the main source of high bacteria levels in surrounding water for a few reasons: the high counts of pigeon droppings near the pier, the number of E. coli strains that match bird fecal sources and a survey of the large number of pigeons counted at the pier.

Other California cities have successfully confronted similar problems, including Oceanside and Santa Monica, the latter of which installed netting under its pier and has since received improved water quality grades from Heal the Bay.

Pismo Beach decided not to install netting because it may need to be replaced in 10 years and, if any part comes loose, could inadvertently trap birds inside.

Instead, starting in March, San Luis Obispo-based R. Burke Corp. will install blocks of wood in gaps just under the pier where pigeons have roosted to keep them from landing there.

Any nests and eggs that are located will be given to a group of local volunteers affiliated with Pacific Wildlife Care, who care for the birds in their own homes and aviaries, said volunteer Johanna Andris.

Last year, the group collected 37 baby pigeons and 62 eggs, though they were unable to save most of the eggs because no one had access to an incubator, Andris said.

She said the city and its contractor worked well with the volunteers and understood their concerns about saving the nestlings.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to disturb the nests, but it’s better than the other things that were proposed,” she said.

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