Ever felt the chill down your spine when you saw a flock of pigeons fly right above your head and you find yourself praying to God to keep you safe from their poop attack? Well, as silly as you may seem at that time, in what seems to be an alarming and game-changing realisation in recent times, the pigeon menace is something every Mumbaikar has been affected with. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In a series of interviews with environmental experts and medical experts, the results are shocking beyond anything that the city has been hit with in a long time.
As Dr. Raju Kasambe, Program Manager – Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas for the Bombay Natural History Society explains, “Indians are obsessed with the concept of earning ‘punya’ (good karma) by feeding pigeons but it is not relevant anymore. In fact, such people are only earning the curses of people who are affected by such a mass gathering of pigeons and fall sick in the process.” He goes on to elaborate further that because of the feeding which is encouraged by the citizens of the city, the pigeon population has increased in huge numbers; something he labels as “artificial population”. Moreover, this has increased the number of prey birds like kites and crows who feed on pigeons; and if pigeons are not preyed upon, they feed on other bird species like parakeets in Mumbai.
“When there is excess food lying on the ground, it increases the population of rats and it may result in an epidemic in the city. They dig holes in the foundations of platforms on railway stations and in buildings which therefore, weakens the structure of a construction”, he quips. While you’re reeling from the after effects of what seemed like an innocent bird-feeding activity, Dr. Kasambe goes on to explain that an excess amount of pigeons cause respiratory diseases, skin infections, itching and irritability. “You can rather feed cows, help orphan kids or even feed sparrows with smaller grains like bajra or raagi. Pigeons are birds that originally reside in tall cliffs and our urban buildings are like tall cliffs for them. What was more alarming was when I was observing the birds at C.S.T. I found almost 20 pigeons with deformities or infections which clearly proves that the pigeon population is an unhealthy one.”, says Dr.Kasambe.
Dr. Prashant Maliyal, a pulmonologist with a multi-speciality hospital explains, “Along with the increasing levels of pollution in the city, the pigeon faeces carry a bacteria which infects the lungs that leads to breathlessness, asthma, weight loss, discomfort in the chest which can also be fatal at times. This disease is also called pigeon-breeder’s lung or hypersensitivity pneumonitis.” Such conditions have affected so many people that Dr.Maliyal encounters almost 8 patients a day with the said condition. Sujit Narwade, a Project Scientist, BNHS says, “Sparrows are declining in number because when they’re nesting they need soft-bodied insects to feed the chicks; something which is not available in the city. Secondly, pigeons do not have something known as nest sanitation, a stark difference when it comes to sparrows whose nests are relatively clean. And when I mean sparrows, I’m talking about house sparrows.”
Sujit also suggests that we could encourage the sparrow population to come back by installing artificial nests and bird feeders and stop feeding the pigeons, the problem can be fixed. Siddesh Surve, a Project Co-ordinator, BNHS quotes, ““We do not realise the change happening in our environment till it is gone. The only solution is to get the people to realise the importance of the natural habitat around them and tell the public to conserve it.” Well, we certainly hope it’s not a long time from now that the pigeons take over from humans to become the dominating race, going at this rate! It’s high time we put a full stop to this and help in reducing one factor of the pigeon menace – us.