“It is an infestation, that’s the only word for it. Just like rats or mice, they can be a problem when we see them in the volume that there are on Broad and Holliday,” John Burrus, Director of Aviation and Transportation said Friday.
Burrus said the large number of pigeons that gather under the overpasses has been an ongoing problem for more than a decade.
First, the city asked the Texas Department of Transportation to address the issues. TxDOT told the city that they were not equipped to handle the problem, Burrus said.
The next step was city council approval, several years ago, for “Slinky-like devices” that were supposed to keep the birds out, but Burrus said they did not work at all. Then, Burrus said he had his welding crew members attach metal barriers along the underside of the overpasses.
“The barriers helped some, but it did not slow it (the gathering of birds) down at all,” he said.
After that attempt, Burrus said they backed off the issue for a while until there started to be an increase in bird strike reports at Wichita Falls Regional Airport.
A bird weighing just a few ounces can destroy a jet engine, so the city needed to address the bird problem for the safety of pilots and passengers.
The city and Sheppard Air Force Base regularly pair to divvy up areas of the city in an effort to control bird problems. The downtown Holliday/Broad area falls under the duties of the city, but there were still no departments equipped to handle the situation.
The city has about 35-40 metal cage traps that are baited and placed near trouble areas including Broad/Holliday area, near the Jasper Water Treatment Plant, Kickapoo Airport, and near the Regional Airport.
For a short time, the fleet maintenance department was setting traps, gathering the trapped birds and euthanizing them by hand.
Soon it was obvious that the task was more than they could handle along with their other duties. The health department and animal control services were both also asked to assist, but again said they were not equipped to handle the situation.
Because the pigeon problem affected air travel, the burden was placed on Burrus’ department.
He said they contracted with two different pest control companies, but had “bad experiences” with both companies not checking the traps regularly and several birds died of dehydration.
“That was unacceptable. I think we (the city) do a much better job that the private companies. It is a fine balance between humanely handling the birds until they are euthanized,” Burrus said.
The city teamed with a new company, Pond Pest Control out of Amarillo, about a year ago for the pigeon situation and Burrus said they have been great to work with.
The city fully cleans out the underpasses twice a year and Burrus said they have cleared out 18-inch thick layers of pigeon feces, dead birds and all manner of health hazards.
Other nuisance birds like cattle egrets and grackles can be scared away or relocated, but Burrus said the pigeons do not scare easily and come right back to their roosting area when shooed away.
“No one wants to do it (trap and euthanize the pigeons), but it’s a necessary part of the job. If we do not take care of it, there are going to be much larger problems at the airport.
A secondary issue, but still a huge, huge issues is the health problems where the birds drop feces,” Burrus said.
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