Maritimers reminded to avoid pigeons

People in the Maritimes are being reminded not to attract pigeons after recent news of a Fredericton woman who was blinded by disease the birds carry.

People in the Maritimes are being reminded not to attract pigeons after a young Fredericton woman was recently blinded by a disease carried by the birds.

Fredericton city council is drafting a bylaw to prevent people from feeding or doing anything to attract pigeons.

Halifax already has a similar bylaw, but it's rarely enforced.

The most common violators of the anti-pigeon bylaw are families with young children.

"We've only had six complaints since 2009 for feeding waterfowl and pigeons on HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality) property," said Andrea MacDonald of Halifax's Animal Services.  "If we were able to contact the alleged violator, it was just an education notice that would have been issued. We have not issued any fines."

It's a common occurrence for students at the University of King's College in Halifax to wake up to the sound of pigeons cooing. They fly in through the windows.

The college staff have cleaned and torn out carpets and even set traps for the birds, but the pigeons keep returning.

Many students say they find it alarming that a potentially fatal fungal disease called cryptococcal meningitis — which is carried in the feces of pigeons — struck 23-year-old Erica Richards.

Richards contracted the disease in January and is now blind because of it.

King's student Blake Thornley said he might stay away from pigeons in light of the warning from officials.

"That does make us a little more wary. I'm not going to go by that window a lot," said Thornley.

The disease is not transmissible from person to person and is rare — about one in one million a year in Canada, according to Capital Health spokesman John Gillis  — so the Public Health Agency of Canada doesn't keep statistics on how many people contract the disease each year.