Wildlife rehabilitation centre asking Saskatoon to ban use of neurotoxin on pigeons

Jan Shadick would like Saskatoon to put a city-wide ban on a neurotoxin used against pigeons.

Living Sky Rehabilitation says neurotoxin inhumane, gathers about 3,000 signatures for petition

Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation is asking for a city-wide ban of a neurotoxin targeted at pigeons. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Jan Shadick would like Saskatoon to put a city-wide ban on a neurotoxin used against pigeons.

Shadick, who runs Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation, said she normally receives about 100 pigeons a year who have been exposed to the chemical.

"They're having seizures, they're shaking," she said.

"Sometimes they're flying when it kicks in and they just drop from the sky and they drop and they hit windows. They hit cars. They fall in the middle of the road and get run over."

The neurotoxin, Avitrol, is only available to pest control companies and is one of the few chemicals approved across the country to reduce pigeon numbers.

Avitrol is marketed as a pigeon repellant and a humane solution to deal with nuisance pigeons. Advocates of the chemical say it temporarily disables the birds, causing behaviour that will scare off other birds in the area, and only kills a small number of the birds that come into contact with it.

However the Humane Society of the United States calls the chemical a "nervous system poison" on its website and has spoken out against its use. 

Armed with a petition signed by almost 3,000 people, Shadick has asked to speak at the city's environment committee meeting on Monday to ask for a city-wide ban. 

In 2019, the City of Saskatoon agreed to stop using Avitrol on its properties after another presentation by Shadick. However, after seeing many birds brought in to her centre, she wants to make sure the chemical is banned everywhere.

Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation's Jan Shadick wants the neurotoxin banned from the city. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The city of London, Ont., has banned the chemical, along with other regions in Ontario.

Shadick is concerned that the chemical may spread to other species, from dogs and cats to crows, magpies and peregrine falcons.

"It's just really devastating to watch these animals suffer," she said. 

"It's a toxin to the environment. It's a toxin to anything that eats the pigeons."

Pigeon problems

A local pest control company said banning Avitrol would make controlling pigeons much more difficult.

Shawn Sherwood from Poulin's Pest Control said pigeons can be very destructive to buildings and can also carry diseases.

For example, in 2019 the city removed about 600 tonnes of pigeon droppings from the Sid Buckwold Bridge at a cost of $800,000.

"I think [the ban] is incredibly misguided," he said. 

"I think they're trying to do something nice for the pretty birds, but they need to take a look at what the product is. They need to look at how it's used."

Sherwood wasn't worried about other animals getting sick from the neurotoxin. He said only five to eight per cent of the pigeons who eat it end up dying.

He said another product called OvoControl, which causes pigeon eggs to fail to develop and is recommended by the Humane Society and Shadick, generally does not work in the wild.

"It doesn't work as advertised in a population of pigeons where you're not able to feed both mating birds," he said.

"Its effectiveness is zero. So, we simply don't use it because we're a results-driven organization."

Shadick believes she will be able to convince council to ban the neurotoxin.

"I'm certainly hopeful that the council will respond in a responsible way to this request," she said.

"I know that pigeons and their populations can become very plentiful and they like to roost on buildings, but there are deterrents that can be used."