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Toronto has a pigeon problem. The city hopes birth control is part of the answer

The City of Toronto is piloting a new bird feed that contains birth control to help stabilize the local pigeon population. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC - image credit)
The City of Toronto is piloting a new bird feed that contains birth control to help stabilize the local pigeon population. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC - image credit)

The City of Toronto hopes the results of a near year-long pilot project will give it a new tool to keep the city's pigeon population under control.

Last spring, the city installed bird feeders with birth control feed called OvoControl in targeted areas across Toronto in an effort to bring the pest's population down.

Four locations and hundreds of dollars later and the project is nearing its one-year mark — something Esther Attard, the city's chief veterinarian and director of its animal services department, said will give staff data on how the initiative influenced local pigeon populations.

"There might be some decrease, but we're not sure yet. We need to go and maybe by spring, summer of this year, we'll have a better idea of how things are going," she said.

"It's not a problem everywhere, it's just certain areas of the city where we get these complaints. But it's enough that we should figure out a different way to deal with it."

The city said its received complaints on the growing pigeon population making it hard for residents to enjoy green space, balconies and urban areas throughout Toronto. That's why it decided to try to feed pigeons with food containing birth control in an effort to deal with the problem in a humane fashion instead of harming, trapping or poisoning the birds.

"[We're] hoping that this method will be able to get that population more under control and manageable so that people can enjoy their outdoor space and we can live, you know, together in harmony."

The project costs roughly $500 per site, with each site targeting about 150 birds. There are currently two sites in downtown Toronto — with another soon to be installed — and one in East York and another in North York, Attard said.

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Willowdale coun. Lily Cheng hopes to see the pilot expand to her ward, where residents have complained about not being able to use their balconies due to pigeon infestations and the mess they create. And despite a city bylaw that prohibits people from feeding pigeons, people actively break that rule, which only contributes to the problem, she said.

"This issue actually stresses a lot of people out," Cheng said,

"When I read about this pilot, it's like a ray of light for us. There's hope in the battle against pigeon poop."

The method has been used in the United States and in some places in Europe, Attard said. But it's also been used here in Canada.

Thor Diakow, the spokesperson for Metro Vancouver's transportation network Translink, said the transit operator conducted its own pilot using OvoControl in 2019 for 18 months. The birds were of a specific concern because of their ability to impact transit safety and efficiency, but also because they can spread bacteria and disease, he said.

It still uses the feed in seven stations , in conjunction with other methods to control the pigeon population, he added.

"With the OvoControl, we found that it basically has stabilized the population," he said.

The City of Toronto says it receives complaints from residents about local pigeon populations and the waste they leave behind throughout the city.
The City of Toronto says it receives complaints from residents about local pigeon populations and the waste they leave behind throughout the city.

The City of Toronto says it receives complaints from residents about local pigeon populations and the waste they leave behind throughout the city. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

Some residents split on project

The majority of pigeons flying above Toronto streets were domesticated by owners who have likely raced or bred them, then abandoned them and released them into the city, Attard said. Since they're domesticated and not wild, this method is helpful in trying to control their population specifically, she added.

Sonu George said she covers her head to dodge the pigeons looking down at her from the pole lines on her daily walk to work near Yonge Street and Finch Avenue. That's why she's in support of the project, she said.

"They're out of control," she said.

"They're always watching, like keeping an eye on us. Like, 'Who's my victim today?'"

Torontonian Laman Meshadiyeva (left) says she doesn't support the City of Toronto's pigeon birth control pilot project, while Torontonian Sonu George (right) does.
Torontonian Laman Meshadiyeva (left) says she doesn't support the City of Toronto's pigeon birth control pilot project, while Torontonian Sonu George (right) does.

Torontonian Laman Meshadiyeva (left) says she doesn't support the City of Toronto's pigeon birth control pilot project, while Torontonian Sonu George (right) does. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

But Laman Meshadiyeva said something like this isn't necessary, and the city's attention is needed elsewhere.

"I'm totally against it," Meshadiyeva said. "Just leave them alone and focus on stuff that actually are more pressing ... worry about the road construction, worry about the homelessness."