For most people in New York, pigeons are a fact of life, a part of the landscape no more noticeable than the squirrels and the stray garbage. But a continuing battle over the worth of pigeons on East 92nd Street has some residents taking sides and declaring themselves lovers or haters of the birds.
A woman named Anna Dove (she changed it from Anna Kugelmas years ago to show her solidarity with avian creatures) has earned a reputation as a fierce advocate of pigeons in the city, and she feeds a large flock of them several times a week on the sidewalk near East 92nd Street and First Avenue. Dove has become a fixture in the area, and her actions have recently raised the ire of some of her neighbors, who say that she is creating unfair and unsanitary conditions.
“The pigeons line up on the roof of the building and on the trees across the street by the dozens,” said Priscilla O’Carroll, one of the concerned neighbors. “She has turned a quiet street corner into a hazardous, filthy mess.”
O’Carroll started noticing the pigeon problem this summer, and said that she has tried to talk to Dove about curbing the habit, but to no avail. She said that she’s reached out to 311, the Department of Health, and the police, but nothing has been done.
Feeding pigeons isn’t illegal. Dove knows this and isn’t afraid to assert her rights; she sees it as a moral issue.
“It’s nothing to do with the law, I just want to do the right thing,” she said. “I don’t want to create a problem, I don’t want to create a nuisance. I’m just trying to do the right thing as a human being.”
Dove used to be more public in her bird advocacy, heading an organization called the New York Bird Club and organizing National Pigeon Day. She has told reporters in the past that the city and the public unfairly discriminate against pigeons. She has since disbanded the bird club, saying that it became too political for her and that there wasn’t enough support, and insists that she’s not trying to be a pigeon advocate.
“I just started out by putting a little bit of crumbs down, and then people didn’t like it,” Dove said. “I didn’t even know there was a problem with pigeons and people not liking them until 10 years ago, when I started adding it to my routine.”
O’Carroll said that she worries about her family’s health more than anything.
Pigeon droppings aren’t especially dangerous, but in very rare instances diseases like histoplasmosis, a condition caused by fungus found in pigeon droppings, can be transmitted to humans.
According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), which monitors all pests including pigeons, that risk is quite low.
“When cleaning droppings, a person may breathe in some of the fungus, which in cases of high exposure can cause infection. Common activities, such as cleaning off windowsills, will not result in high exposures,” reads the DOHMH website.
When asked if large groups of pigeons, like the three or four dozen that congregate around Dove’s deposits of birdseed, cause any particular health concern, a DOHMH spokesperson said, “Pigeons do not pose a health risk to the general public. The Health Department does follow up on complaints regarding pigeon public health nuisances, such as large quantities of droppings.”
That’s not to discount the fact that the dropping are, indisputably, gross.
“I have nine windows and unfortunately the trees are right across the street from my windows,” said another neighbor, Ellie Posser, who is a senior. “When she feeds the pigeons, they come out of those trees and they eat and they land. Some of them roost on my windowsill and leave feces and so now I have work to do. I have to clean the outside of the windowsill.”
Posser said that she objects to the sheer quantity and frequency of the feedings, which attracts so many pigeons.
“I know it sounds ridiculous, but unless you’re dealing with it, you don’t know,” she said. “I know God made pigeons and I have nothing against that, but why can’t she feed them where it’s not so heavily populated?”
Dove disagrees with the accusation that she is attracting pigeons.
“I don’t really feel like I’m doing anything wrong. They’re there regardless,” she said. “I enjoy it, the birds are grateful for the extra food.”
She also says that the birds eat all the seed she puts down, so none is left for rats or to litter the sidewalk.
“It’s just very frustrating because it’s not a park, it’s a sidewalk,” said O’Carroll. “The seed is usually gone, but the pigeons are just hovering.”
Dove said that she’s not going to stop feeding the pigeons no matter how many people complain, and that there’s something wrong with those who have a problem with it, not with her.
“When I was little, we were poor, and we would go to the park and feed the ducks,” Dove said. “To me, it’s part of life. Not everybody wants to sit in Starbucks and text all day.”
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