It has come to my attention that there’s been some mirth at Hollister City Hall’s expense over the current field experiment with stereophonic raptor cackles in the downtown area. A steady stream of screeches and cackles emanates from the parking garage at Fourth and San Benito streets throughout the daylight hours.
I’m here to say that the mirth may be misplaced – at least for the time being. City Manager Bill Avera ordered the audio assault to be initiated in an effort to displace a booming population of feral pigeons that were busy procreating and simultaneously turning the garage into a cesspool.
Initial reports delivered to the City Council indicated that there do seem to be fewer pigeons doing what pigeons do in and on the garage structure. That makes sense. Birds are highly vocal, and critically aware of the noises around them. Broadcasting a variety of calls from predatory birds is likely to make other birds a little edgy and inclined to move on to quieter perches.
Birds use vocalizations for a number of purposes. Some of the singing we hear comes from males, eager to let others’ know that they’ve laid claim to a very desirable patch of real estate. Others are contact calls. Take a walk outside, and you are likely to encounter a cloud of Bushtits, or a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, all visiting non-stop as they move through shrubs and trees. They’re staying in touch with one another, offering assurance that none of the members of the flock has seen or sensed anything thought to be a threat.
A group of retiring waterbirds called rails are very vocal. Given that they inhabit dense wetland growth, voice is just about the only way they can keep in touch with one another.
I may have been one of the first to notice the downtown calls, and to notice that they weren’t live, but Memorex. So let me be among the first to say that whatever efficacy the recordings have in convincing, the solution will be temporary at best.
Years ago, Bill Muenzer, owner of Muenzer’s Cyclery and Sporting Goods on Fifth Street, began selling life-sized plastic Great Horned Owls. They began appearing on downtown rooftops with the intention of moving the pigeons along. And that, too, seemed to work very well for a while.
But eventually, a thought flickered into some brighter-than-average pigeon pea brain. If those owls don’t move for a few weeks, maybe something’s up. Soon enough, the pigeons were back.
That’s going to happen with the recordings, too. So the feathered arms race will have to continue. A few years ago, the most chilling screams came from speakers on the roof of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute administrative building in Moss Landing. They were the sounds of gulls being seriously messed with. The calls made my blood run cold, but they didn’t seem to bother the hundreds of gulls perched on the same roof at all.
Some birds are well poised to thrive around people. Gulls can scavenge our leftovers and use flat rooftops as secure roosts. The feral pigeons circling downtown Hollister are the descendants of a genuine wild bird, known as the Rock Pigeon.
When Europeans first got here, the pigeons nested on cliff ledges. Then we built urban canyons filled with perfect cliff ledges. We call them “buildings” and “parking structures.”
Moreover, we continued domesticating pigeons. One of the first things a farmer does in domesticating livestock is to breed in a tendency to breed rapidly, the better to get more livestock.
The result is that today, we have a bunch of randy birds downtown with poor hygiene practices.
So enjoy the raucous downtown symphony while it lasts, because it won’t last long. The pigeons will see to it.