SM PIER — For pigeons, the Santa Monica Pier has long been something akin to easy street, where even the beta males seem to get fat and happy off discarded pizza crust and fallen churros.
But the times are changing and Santa Monica is taking a more aggressive stand against the birds, which studies have shown contribute to poor water quality near the pier.
In recent months, City Hall has begun a four-pronged campaign to curb the pier’s pigeon population, saying fewer pigeons will mean less bacteria from fecal matter in the ocean.
In addition to constructing a net underneath the pier aimed at keeping the birds from nesting, city officials have also put out spikes on selected roosting spots, installed sound devices that mimic the noises of predators and started putting out special “contraceptive feed” that makes the birds infertile.
“It’s all about trying to eliminate or at least mitigate one potential source of bacteria in this area near the pier,” said Lee Swain, City Hall’s director of public works.
Water underneath and around the pier has long received poor grades for water quality from environmental watchdog Heal the Bay. A recent project that replaced a leaky storm drain has helped, but the area still suffers.
The net is partially installed and should be in place by the end of February. The other measures have been phased in during the past six months, Swain said.
The contraceptive feed is said to reduce the population by 5 percent per month, he said, though “it takes about 12 months to reach full effect.”
The anti-pigeon measures stem in part from a 2006 study by Heal the Bay that said “pigeons are a definite source of fecal bacteria and the elimination or reduction of roosting sites in the intertidal zone area would help reduce fecal bacterial densities in the surf zone.”
Ben Franz-Knight, executive director at the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp., said it’s too early to judge the effectiveness of the pigeon reduction measures.
He said the measures are geared toward improving water quality, not protecting businesses and tourists at the pier from the nuisance of too many aggressive birds.
“It’s an issue that [businesses on the pier] face, but I certainly wouldn’t qualify it as a top concern,” he said.
Swain said some members of the public expressed concern about potentially harming pigeons when the measures were first discussed last year, but no pro-pigeon activists have raised the issue in the past several months.
Contacted on Thursday, a representative for the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the group didn’t have any issues with the steps being taken at the Santa Monica Pier.
Martin Mersereau, director of PETA’s emergency response division, said while the group opposes any lethal methods for dealing with pigeons, all of Santa Monica’s efforts appeared to be humane.
The only concern, Mersereau said, is that the netting under the pier could be improperly installed and could harm some birds. But he added, “We trust that Santa Monica activists are going to keep a sharp eye out for anything like that.”
Besides being cruel, he stressed that killing pigeons is also an ineffective population control tool because it creates a spike in the food supply that quickly attracts replacement birds.
This isn’t City Hall’s first attempt to pry into the private lives of wild animals. Forced by county health officials to cut down the number of squirrels in Palisades Park, City Hall in 2007 began giving the rodents birth control shots. Because the number of squirrels was so high, city officials were forced to trap them, gas them and feed them to hawks at a rehabilitation center at Cal State Bakersfield.
County health officials said the squirrels posed a significant public health threat because they carry fleas that can spread bubonic plague.