They waddle on the yellow line next to the BART tracks. They scavenge for food scraps left by residents and tourists alike. They nest in the rafters and other nooks around the Powell Street BART station. And they splatter the station with guano.
The presence of rock pigeons throughout SF is nothing new, but there has been an especially high concentration of them at SF’s Powell Street BART station – the third busiest in the transit system with 33,273 commuters using the station on an average weekday – for years.
BART has taken steps to make the station a less attractive dwelling for pigeons, including using high-frequency and predatory bird sounds to annoy or scare the pigeons away. But it hasn’t been enough.
Two months ago, BART spent $25,000 to install fabric nets to block access to spots around the station, like rafters and overhangs, that pigeons have used for resting and nesting in the past. Still, there are other perches, like the signs showing commuters which exit is which, that can’t be covered up.
But despite BART’s attempts at pigeon abatement, signs of pigeons at the station are all over the place – their fights over food scraps, mating rituals and, yes, guano. Opinions of Bay Area commuters and residents on the pigeons vary, too.
“I absolutely hate pigeons. They’re a menace,” said Jesse Reyes, 27, of San Francisco. He’s a student at nearby Hack Reactor and he was walking through the Powell Street BART station from the Starbucks in Westfield Mall when he spoke to SFGATE. “It’s like we’re living in Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.”
Reyes, with an incredulous look on his face, said the pigeons act like they aren’t even scared of the masses of people bustling by them. That’s likely because, according to local pigeon and wildlife experts, they’ve become acclimated to urban environments over the decades.
Some commuters, like Jessica Guevarra, 18, of SF, have become as acclimated to the pigeons at the station as the pigeons have become to living there. “Honestly since I’ve lived here all my life it doesn’t bother me,” she said.
Alison Hermance, director of communications for wildlife rescue hospital WildCare in San Rafael, said the often-adaptable pigeons have figured out how to live among humans.
“They benefit from the easy access to food that humans provide, as well as many protected spots for nesting in our buildings and eaves and easy-to-access water sources like fountains and water features,” Hermance said.
The exact number of pigeons at the station is unknown to local pigeon and wildlife experts as well as BART and Muni representatives. “We’re busy with other things. We’re not doing too much birdwatching,” said Jim Allison, media relations manager for BART.
Jodie Foreman, the founder of a SF group that rescues string-foot pigeons (pigeons whose feet are injured after getting tangled in human hair and string), estimated that each city block has a flock and each flock could have several hundred birds.
“As with any wildlife population, the number of animals present is exactly the number that the environment can support,” Hermance said.
Foreman suggested other methods for curbing the pigeon population like feeding the pigeons contraceptive food, replacing their eggs with replicas and installing breeding boxes. Some of these methods have been tried in other major metropolitan areas where there are large pigeon populations.
Allison did not say that whether BART would try any of those methods, but he did point out a couple long term pigeon abatement efforts. He said part of the ceiling replacement project at Powell Street BART will involve the installation of metal screens to permanently cover up the pigeons’ hang outs. Installation of the screens will cost $240,000 and the project will be complete in the winter of 2017 or early 2018.
He acknowledged that the ceiling replacement project will not completely solve the problem of the pigeons entering the station. He said that BART is also working to cover the entrances of the BART stations with canopies to help deter pigeons from getting down to the station entrances and platforms. The latest that project will be completed, he said, is fall 2019.
Hallidae Plaza poses another challenge when it comes to limiting the pigeons’ access to the Powell Street station. The open space near the station entrance provides ample space for pigeons to perch or enter one of BART’s busiest stations.
Another way to limit the number of Powell station pigeons would be for BART and Muni passengers to obey rules prohibiting food in the stations and trains. There are several food vendors on Powell Street right outside of the entrances to the BART station and people feed birds at nearby Union Square.
“Certainly with the number of people in the area, there is also a lot of human food being consumed and dropped or improperly disposed of,” Hermance said. “Pigeons are flock birds, so they like to hang out together, and they’ll gravitate to a place with lots of easy-to-access food.”
Elizabeth Young, founder and executive director of the SF-based Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions, said although many commuters think of pigeons as a nuisance, they attract them by being sloppy with their food and drink.
“We drop things all over the place, lots of food and lots of crumbs, so there’s a lot of food for them,” she said. “So they live [where there’s food] and they reproduce and people don’t like that…[but] until we stop dropping food…you can’t blame the birds, it’s our fault.”
Allison recalled recently witnessing a litterbug in action at the station. “I was there yesterday and I saw a guy eating an energy bar,” he said. “I guess he didn’t like the taste of it and he just threw it right on the floor of the station. You know, all that does it attract vermin.
“If people could just be mindful of the fact that we’re surrounded by pigeons, by rats…they’ve thrived in our ecosystem and that just gives them encouragement to come into the BART station if they know they can find food there.”
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