Editorial: What to do about Pismo’s pigeons?

The fate of Pismo’s flock of pigeons is once again up in the air, now that a scientific study has identified the birds as the major source of high bacteria counts in the ocean.

The three-year study by Cal Poly’s Environmental Biotechnology Institute included an analysis of water samples collected at multiple sites, plus observations of volunteers who counted animal droppings on the beach. While researchers found no “smoking gun,” they concluded that a preponderance of evidence pointed to pigeon droppings as the major source of high bacteria counts that have led to a string of health warnings over the years.

The conclusion isn’t a surprise. Even before the study, common sense led city officials to suspect that pigeons were at least partly to blame. For one thing, bacteria counts were highest near the pier, where hundreds of the birds roost.

To its credit, the city already has taken measures to prevent the pigeon population from growing, including adopting a ban on the feeding of pigeons in 2007. Obviously, though, that wasn’t enough, and it’s time for the city to take other action — sooner, rather than later.

The report suggests some methods: trapping and relocating the flock; netting the underside of the pier to discourage roosting; and setting out feed laced with a birth control agent.

Those are all worth exploring — either alone or in combination.

Inevitably, there will also be calls for extermination of the birds. We believe that’s an option best avoided. The city will earn itself much goodwill and avoid a public outcry if it finds a nonlethal way to deal with the pigeons.

We urge the City Council to act as expeditiously —and humanely — as possible, by following the recommendations of the Cal Poly study.