VANCOUVER — Chances are if your SkyTrain stops inexplicably and then starts moving again in a couple of minutes — not even enough time to find out on Twitter what the heck’s wrong — that a pigeon has tripped an alarm.
“Even a feather can set off a laser alarm,” Jill Drews, senior issues management advisor at TransLink, said. “And when an alarm goes off, we have to stop the trains.”
TransLink has undertaken the usual measures to keep pigeons away such as spikes and netting; now they’re using birth control, installing automatic feeders that, along with corn, contain contraceptives.
“It’s about time someone invented that (the bird contraceptive),” said Sara Dubois, an adjunct professor of applied biology at UBC and an expert on animal welfare. “Health Canada approved it last year.”
The birth control is called OvoControl, is said to be non-toxic and only has contraceptive effects in birds.
Apparently you can’t just zap the birds like they’re giant mosquitoes. This humane approach will reduced the pigeon populations near SkyTrain stations by 50 per cent a year, Dubois said.
“People love pigeons, they’re really cool and fun to study. You’re not going to get rid of them all over the city, but this way you can get rid of the pigeon population over the years.
“And it’s reversible if the pigeon moves away, just like any contraceptive it has to be taken every day.”
Messy pigeon poop is the end result, but people are the problem. The reason why there are so many pigeons at SkyTrain stations is because there are so many people and those people are messy: They drop bread crumbs, don’t dispose of uneaten food properly, and some even purposely feed the pigeons.
The pigeons know a good thing when they see it.
“You see it, especially at the Commercial/Broadway station, people feeding the birds and that causes big pigeon problems there and at other stations,” TransLink’s Drews said.
The stations with the most traffic attract the most pigeons: Commercial/Broadway, Stadium/Chinatown, VCC Clark and Burrard.
“Some people intentionally feed the birds, others unintentionally feed them with their garbage.”
TransLink and the B.C. SPCA have teamed up to install a pilot-project pigeon feeder at VCC-Clark, a solar-powered Moultrie spreader meant to feed deer. There’s a one-time $1,000 cost per feeder and a bag of contraceptive feed costs about $100 a month.
“When you think of the cost of the alarm system going off, of checking the track, of the cleaning and maintenance, this will save costs,” said Dubois, who serves as the B.C. SPCA’s chief scientific officer.